Well, have the heart rates returned to normal yet? With just over 24 hours to go until Mayo and Dublin square up again in Ireland's colosseum, anticipation is at boiling point as the gladiators in green and red prepare to do battle once more with the Jacks from the city. While Mayo have named their first 15 on paper already ahead of the skirmish on Jones Road, if we have learned anything this year from Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes' tenure in charge of it is to expect the unexpected. While Barry Moran's inclusion in the quarter-final was a bolt from the blue, the decision to drop David Drake into the cauldron for his first championship start was a bolt from far beyond the reaches of our solar system.
The Ballaghaderreen man had not even made the match day 26 for Mayo's three championship games up to last Sunday, so his inclusion in the starting line up caught everyone off guard in Croke Park when the teams were announced 10 minutes before throw in, down beside the Royal Canal. One thing that cannot be levelled at the Mayo management team is not mixing things up, and sticking with the tried and tested because they worked before. Noel Connelly said in the summer that Mayo were taking a 'horses for courses' approach to games and team selection, and this particular course called for a workhorse from east Mayo.
Mayo have named the same 15 to start tomorrow evening as did last Sunday, Donal Vaughan's inclusion in the starting 15 will have raised eyebrows after the Ballinrobe flyer had to go off injured very early on after a putting in a mother-and-father of a hit on Jack McCaffrey. If Vaughan is fully fit, it will be a big boost to Mayo. But Patrick Durcan's growing reputation continued to blossom when he came on for Vaughan last week and put in a very good showing.
The news that Diarmuid Connolly's one match ban for the red card he picked up for a late strike on Lee Keegan was upheld by the GAA's Central Hearings Committee on Wednesday night will be a boost for Mayo, with one of the game's most potent attacking threats more than likely lost to the 2013 champions, unless they make a successful appeal of the decision to the GAA's Central Appeals Committee before tonight.
Getting the tactics right
Dublin can tear any team apart in the blink of an eye and they almost did to Mayo in a nine minute spell between the 51st and 60th minute, when they hit Mayo for 1-4 from Diarmuid Connolly's pointed free to Jack McCaffrey's excellent score to push their lead out to seven. Mayo had set up to make sure they were in the game when it went down the final stretch trusting in their ability to run the legs off Dublin down the home straight. Tactically it made sense, going man to man with Dublin will lead to an open entertaining game, but if they clicked they could be out of sight before you know what has even happened. While many pundits will say and have been saying that Mayo need to push up on Dublin's kick-outs like they did in the closing stages of the game, that decision can also lead to bigger problems if a wing-forward or midfielder is able to make a break to win the ball in the clear and set them off flying in attack. When Mayo really did push up on Dublin in the final few minutes, the game had become broken up and bitty as tired bodies found it harder to cover the ground than they did earlier in the day. The last day, despite not playing that well, Mayo were only two points behind when Dublin struck their second of two fortunate goals that pushed them clear. If the referee had not awarded Dublin a very soft penalty in the first half and our forwards' radar had been working as it should have in the opening stages of the second half, Mayo would have been well clear of the Dubs by this stage.
Shooting has to improve
As was highlighted last week, Mayo's dependency on Cillian O'Connor on the scoring front this year came to the fore again with the Ballintubber man scoring 1-9 of Mayo's total of 1-15. O'Connor's ability from dead balls was never more important to Mayo than last Sunday with all of his scores coming from placed kicks. Only one of Mayo's starting forwards managed to register a score from play, which is a worrying trend that cannot be reapeated if Mayo are going to win this time around. In fact, Mayo only managed to covert six of their 20 scoring chances from play, the first of those converted attempts coming from Lee Keegan in the first minute of the game. Mayo did not register another score from play until Diarmuid O'Connor's point in the 38th minute, and the next one 24 minutes later when Andy Moran kicked the first point of Mayo's comeback run. Mayo's total of eight wides is not a massive number over the duration of the contest, but with the vast majority of them coming in the early stages of the second half when they were trying to level up the contest, it is something they will look to have sorted out during the course of this week.
What we do know is that it should be another classic and be prepared to expect the unexpected from the Mayo management team as to who lines up at the start of the game tomorrow evening.