THERE'S something curious about the weight of conventional wisdom driving the argument that Donegal are certainties to land the All-Ireland title for the second time tomorrow.
They have been backed down to 4/9 favourites, with Mayo at 5/2, a market which shows that the public are unwavering in the belief that Jim McGuinness' squad are unstoppable.
Yet, if Dublin had succeeded in their frantic recovery attempt in the semi-final and edged out Mayo, they would start as favourites to win the two-in-a-row tomorrow. That inherent contradiction points to a lack of trust among the broader community in Mayo's capacity to sustain, let alone enhance, the efficiency levels which took them to the final.
Two embarrassing wipe-outs in the 2004 and 2006 finals and four close but ultimately unsuccessful calls in 1989, '96 (draw and replay) and 1997 have left Mayo with the unwelcome tag of All-Ireland chokers -- hence the absence of belief that they will deliver tomorrow.
How relevant is that? David Clarke, Keith Higgins, Alan Dillon and Barry Moran are the only four of tomorrow's starting 15 who played against Kerry in 2006 so, essentially, this is a new Mayo team. Why then should they be associated in any way with past failures? That message will have been pumped into their bloodstreams by James Horan in recent weeks.
Donegal have been on a constant drip-feed of confidence and conviction since Jim McGuinness took over as manager two years ago and with their graph rising ever since, it's easy to understand why so many people believe they won't be stopped tomorrow.
Eleven wins from 12 championship games since May 2011 is a very impressive haul, something never previously achieved by a Donegal team. There were mitigating circumstances, too, for Donegal's defeat by Dublin in last year's semi-final in that they lost Karl Lacey, arguably the best defender in the game at present, in the third quarter. It was from there on that Dublin began to find space through Donegal's previously ultra-secure channels.
Among Donegal's victims this year were Cork, Kerry and Tyrone, who between them won eight of the nine previous All-Ireland titles. That's inspiring form, even if the trio have dipped from the heights attained in their title-winning seasons.
Still, All-Irelands are won by beating the opposition that presents itself, not comparisons with previous challengers, so Donegal have every reason to take real confidence into tomorrow's clash.
There are, however, areas of concern. The main one centres on how the Donegal players will handle their hot favourites' rating. In theory, it shouldn't matter, but this is brand new territory for them.
Indeed, it's the first time since 1998 that a team which hadn't won the All-Ireland for a long time started at such tight odds. Back then, Kildare, who had beaten Kerry, Meath and Dublin -- the three previous All-Ireland winners -- were regarded as certainties to beat Galway, but came up well short.
Kildare manager Mick O'Dwyer has always believed that the hype which swept through the county in the weeks before the final drained the players.
"When lads are living in an environment where everybody is telling them they are about to be crowned All-Ireland champions, it's next to impossible for them to remain unaffected," he said.
The Donegal players have lived with that for the last four weeks and while McGuinness and his co-strategists will have done everything in their powers to keep the squad focused on the challenge which awaits them tomorrow, there's no way of knowing if they have succeeded.
The atmosphere in Mayo has been quite calm. The county hasn't been averse to over-exuberance prior to previous All-Ireland finals, even if deep down they had real doubts about whether they were good enough to beat Kerry, in particular. It was as if the supporters celebrated in advance, fearing that the day itself would be a letdown which was, indeed, the case in 2004 and '06.
It's different this time. Whereas Mayo might have hang-ups going into a final against the likes of Kerry, they see themselves very much as equals with Donegal. There's a genuine belief in Mayo that they can win this one, almost as if destiny had called and was going to get a resounding answer.
If Sam Maguire is to head west for the first time since 1951, a number of things have to go right for Mayo. First, they must do a better marking job on Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden than Cork or Kerry did. They must also restrict Mark McHugh's influence on the game and it's absolutely imperative that they match Donegal's energy levels.
That will be much easier to achieve if they start well. Donegal tend to win most of their games from the front, setting the agenda in the first half and pressing on from there. It's all part of a superbly orchestrated strategy by McGuinness and Co, which is carried out down to the last comma by the squad.
In fairness, Mayo have taken a huge step in that direction too. There's real fluidity to their game, which they exploit expertly. However, there would have to be concerns about the collective threat level of the full-forward line (Enda Varley, Cillian O'Connor, Michael Conroy), especially against the tight-fisted misers that prowl in front of Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan.
Mayo's inside trio need to raise their score-to-chance ratio and if they do that it will leave Donegal with a problem they may not have bargained for.
At the start of the year nobody would have predicted a Donegal-Mayo final, with the latter further down the main contenders' list. And while Mayo certainly didn't have to produce anything special to win a sub-standard Connacht championship, their rate of progress since then has been significant.
But then they were able to time their campaign to perfection as they didn't join the championship race until June 24, five weeks after Donegal who, for the second successive years, were drawn in the Ulster preliminary round.
Donegal tick so many boxes that it's difficult to go against them, but the question of how they will cope with being such hot favourites still remains. It could provide Mayo with the opening to end the 61-year wait for a fourth All-Ireland title.