After Brendan Maher lifted the Liam McCarthy Cup high over his head in the Hogan Stand a fortnight ago, he mentioned in his speech that it had been "six long years" for Tipperary waiting for this day. Six years may be a long time in Tipperary, but it was 38 years for Mayo to reach an All Ireland final from the last time they won it in 1951 to their next dance with the girls at the end of the summer in 1989. That particular dance saw Cork go home with girls and since then Mayo have gone back to the same dance hall on six more occasions only to leave by themselves at the end of the night when the jackets were being collected from the cloakroom.
Mayo as a county are heading back to that famous dance hall again this Sunday looking to finally catch the eye of lady luck when it comes to the crunch. Times and fashions have changed many times over since the days of Sean Flanagan led his men to final jive of the night and walked away with the object of their affections, but the objective remains the same and it's those city slickers in their finest new suits and sharp shoes that once more are trying to deny them what their hearts desire most.
While others have had fleeting moments of greatness in Croke Park, Mayo have continued to come back time and time again to look for their own crowning glory, and much like the lad whose night looked to be going off the rails early on with a few setbacks this year, they've dusted themselves down and made it this far through their own stubborn self belief.
But back to the football, this group of Mayo players know exactly what it takes to do it. They've been gallant losers coming up just short on more than one occasion and they have had to swallow that bitterest of pills at 5pm on the third Sunday in September too often for their liking. So now it's about getting the job done. The days of lunacy all over the county, are marked absent this year; instead there's a feeling that things are going to be tough, that Dublin are recognised as one of the best teams ever to take to a Gaelic Football field for good reason, but there's still a chance, a hell of a chance. But everything will have to go to plan from throw-in until the final whistle 38 odd minutes after the second half throws in. If you stop and take a step back for ten minutes, this Dublin team can kill you and your best laid plans in a flash. They are that good. But Mayo have shown in fits and spurts that they have the exact same ability to do that, but they need it all to fall into place from the word go, until the last shrill blow from Conor Lane's lips through his whistle.
Mayo have been warned of this, they saw it last year when they led by four points with midway through the second half in the semi-final replay against Dublin. It was there for the taking, but Dublin stepped up and eased their way home in the end as Mayo wilted in the final quarter. Even as recently as their All Ireland semi-final, trailing Kerry by five points late on they stayed calm, composed and never questioned their own abilities as they reeled in the big historical whale of the GAA world. Now it's time for Mayo to catch their own Moby Dick this Sunday.
If Mayo are going to win out, then they have to make sure they remain tight at the back. Last year's two meeting of the teams in the semi-final and its replay were really only decided by Dublin's ability to score goals. Dublin only managed one more score than Mayo over the two games, but it was the five goals compared to Mayo's two over the 140 minutes that ultimately proved their undoing. Dublin will score close to 15 points you'll have to expect at least the next day, but if Mayo can keep goals to the minimum they are one step closer to winning. Mayo have only conceded three goals in their seven championship games to date, but they have yet to face an attack as potent as Dublin posses. One thing Mayo have to make sure they don't do is lose the second half of the game, they've lost the second half to Galway, Kildare, Westmeath and Tipperary in the championship this year so far and they can't afford to let that happen again this time around or they'll be bailing out water down the home stretch and will struggle to keep afloat.
The use of Kevin McLoughlin as a sweeper is something that obviously Stephen Rochford and his management team pinpointed early on as something that may well need to close off the goal threat, and while it's not to everyone's taste (most like to see Mayo play a traditional style of football ) pragmatism and planning wins big games as much if not more often than talent. Playing ugly can lead to some beautiful things when all is said and done at the final whistle.
The most obvious and talked about thing Mayo have to decide what they are doing from the get go is what to do on Dublin's kick-outs. Stephen Cluxton has been quarter-backing his team from here for more than a decade and there is no one better in the business. He did have a little melt down in the semi-final against Kerry and Mayo will be hoping to force him into something similar again this weekend. Do they push up or concede the kick-outs to Dublin, both come with risks. Dublin have no problem building form the back if you let them have it short, while if you push up and the Dublin midfield are able to stretch ours to the flanks and their half forwards come deep to pick it up you can be in a whole world of trouble with little cover to protect the goal behind you. It's something that will have been worked on hard and long over the past four weeks.
There are so many different caveats and little battles along with the over all game plan in this contest, it should be a fascinating encounter and Mayo have the wherewithal to win this and they definitely have the heart and desire along with the work rate to make it happen.