Mayo travel to Croke Park on Saturday to take on pointless Dublin in round three of the league, in what could prove to be a crucial game for both teams.
On any given day in the past decade, a contest against the Dubs could be fraught with danger, but the fear factor of playing Dublin has all but evaporated. They are most definitely in transition and under pressure and their manager Dessie Farrell has found himself under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Losing last year's All-Ireland semi final to Mayo and suffering two fairly comprehensive losses to Armagh and Kerry in the first two rounds of the league, have compounded matters.
Mayo have a big chance to heap more pressure on Farrell on Saturday. However Mayo's record against the Dubs in the league is atrocious. Mayo haven't beaten Dublin in Croke Park in the league since 1971 and our last victory over them (in the league ) was in Castlebar ten years ago in 2012 in a replayed fixture, because the first encounter was called off half way through because of fog; remember that?
We have taken some proper hidings from them over the years. The last league encounter at HQ, the Dubs ran out comfortable winners on a scoreline of 1-12 to 0-7. From memory, that could have been a lot worse, only for the heroics of Robbie Hennelly, who pulled off up to five top-class saves. League games between Mayo and Dublin have ignited Dublin’s seasons in the past when they weren't going well. Thereafter, they kicked on to win leagues and All-Ireland titles for fun.
However the big difference between years gone by and 2022 is that through those golden years, Dublin had enough quality to field two teams that could have competed on a national level. They just don't have that quality of personnel any more.
A lot of their go-to men have gone out to pasture coupled with the withdrawal of multiple All-Ireland winners and serious operators - Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion - for personal reasons, which leaves them very light on the ground in terms of quality and back-up. This is why Mayo have to take advantage on Saturday and continue the momentum after a very lucky round one draw with Donegal and an impressive away win against Monaghan in Clones.
James Horan looks like he's going to have a positive headache for a change with a number of players returning at a crucial time. Enda Hession and Oisin Mullin are, by all accounts, primed and ready for action and All-Star Mattie Ruane looks set to return to a midfield berth after completing a two-game suspension because of his red card in the All Ireland final. Ruane is obviously our first choice in that department but the question is, who is best suited to be his partner? Team captain Stephen Coen, Conor O Shea and Conor Loftus, have all been tried there, so Saturday's selection will be interesting.
I wouldn't mind seeing Oisin Mullin deployed there where he could use his extreme athleticism to good effect. With current kick-out strategies extremely important and fine-tuned, you don't need to be 6' 4 and a supreme fielder to hold a midfield spot in the current game. Mullin and Ruane could work well together. Kilmeena's Jack Carney also deserves a chance. Dublin are warm favourites with the bookmakers to end their barren run of results with Mayo priced at a generous 13/8. Normally pessimism is the over-riding emotion when we square up against the Dubs, dare we be optimistic this time around?
Last season finally comes to an end
The curtain came down on the 2021 senior club championship last Saturday in the most remarkable circumstances in Croke Park. Two late late goals in the hurling and football finals secured first All-Ireland titles for Ballygunner of Waterford and Kilcoo of Down, respectively.
Both games were packed with drama. I was delighted for former Mayo Manager Mickey Moran, the Kilcoo supremo who guided the Down outfit to their first All-Ireland title in the most dramatic circumstances after extra time. Kilcoo looked done for, two points down, with the clock almost up, only for them to snatch a late late goal to win the All-Ireland senior club title. Part of me felt a little sickened for Kilmacud Crokes who made all the early running and were ahead by 0-9 to 0-2 at the start of the second half. The despair on their faces at the end told you all you need to know.
They knew they had blown a great chance. It's not often you would feel sorry for a Dublin team with the huge resources they have, but their run to the final was achieved without Dublin stars Cian O'Sullivan and Paul Mannion. Imagine if they had those two fit. It won't bother Kilcoo in the slightest, who won the Ulster semi final, the All-Ireland semi final and now the All-Ireland final - all after extra time. That's impressive, no matter what way you look at it.
GAA stand their ground
The GAA have laid down a marker by refusing to overturn the red cards issued to four Tyrone and one Armagh player after their unsightly skirmish at the end of their round two league encounter. To be fair, there wasn't a fist thrown in anger, more jostling and pushing, but the rule “contributing to a melee” was the reason their cards were not overturned. It will certainly discourage any players getting involved unnecessarily in the future.