This is the perfect time for Dubs to silence their critics
The champions' reliance on the Brogans will be tested to the limit by Mayo, says Páidí ó Sé
My spies are telling me that Mayo don't fear Dublin. They are coming into the game with nothing to lose. And it helps too that a lot of talk in the run-up to this match-up has been about Dublin's underperformance, and about how they will cope with Donegal's much talked about system.
This is a nice distraction for Mayo but the reality of Dublin's situation is that they haven't lost a game this year and are now in an All-Ireland semi-final. That wouldn't sound too bad if we weren't talking about Dublin.
They looked like the real deal in last year's championship, a polished unit and were deserving winners. This year they are a far cry from that. In the words of many of the Dublin players over the last few weeks, they just haven't clicked. The excuse that's been bandied about for this is the absence of Alan Brogan and while he has been a big loss, their underperforming isn't down to his absence alone.
A lot of the other lads now need to step up to the plate, like Diarmuid Connolly, who was taken off the last day against Laois and sent off earlier against Wexford, Bryan Cullen, whose scoring return isn't great, and Michael Darragh Macauley, who I really don't think is a forward.
It seems a lot of weight is being put on Bernard Brogan's shoulders by the general public and the players around him. He needs Alan to be fit today as the older brother tends to find the younger with passes a lot more than others. There is a telepathy there built up in their back garden when they were kids. Although Macauley fills in he isn't the same type of centre-forward, he's more robust and is a worker and he tends to play as a third midfielder rather than a link man.
If Alan Brogan's comeback from injury today breaks down early, then I believe Ciarán Kilkenny could come in and play that role. He may be young, but he has the potential to fill the void in the centre as a link man or a ball player. If the likes of him go in there then Bernard could get more ball and better ball.
This Mayo team are hardened; they are made from a different mould than Mayo teams of the past. It's obvious that James Horan has changed the attitude of the players from an inconsistent bunch of individuals to a hard-working unit.
The transformation is not unlike that of Donegal, though the latter are further advanced at the moment. Mayo have a tough set of backs who are tight marking and fearless, especially Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan and Ger Cafferkey. The half-backs seem to be the platform on which this team is built.
Filling Andy Moran's boots will be a difficult task for Mayo. Not only was the full-forward a link man but he was a ball-winner inside. Mayo have finishers in the corners in Michael Conroy and Jason Doherty but they'll need someone to feed them the ball.
The last time the teams met Mayo won the game comprehensively. They seemed to target Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs and turned them over for numerous scores in the first half. Against Laois, a lot of Dublin's primary possession was won by Eamonn Fennell. I don't think they will find it that easy against Mayo.
I think Dublin will win but the form of Brogan and Connolly will dictate the margin. The chance to beat Donegal in the final and silence their critics in the process will surely motivate them.
I know Dublin have prepared very professionally. We had the privilege of having them in Dingle for a camp, and it's a tribute to the Dubs that they didn't hide themselves away and they decided to come down to us for a few days.
Dublin are, all round, a better team and I think that it might just be a year too early for Mayo. However, Mayo always go for goals in the first 20 minutes and it's their two corner-forwards who are their goal-getters and that's one thing that could shake Pat Gilroy's men.
Last Sunday's semi-final was an enjoyable one and, in hindsight, it's clear Cork didn't move the ball quickly enough coming out of defence. Their lateral handpassing slowed their attacks -- if you could call them that -- down. They continuously ran the ball into the centre with three and four Donegal men around each time; they couldn't get their shots off and Donegal easily crowded them out.
As a result, Cork's half-back line pushed up the field and once Donegal turned over the ball they had an open field in front of them which the likes of Karl Lacey and Anthony Thompson took full advantage of.
It was interesting to see the way Donegal positioned their backs. They just put markers on players and stuck to that. It showed that their backs are very versatile; they all seemed very comfortable in any position, switching from wing-back to corner-back and even full-back at different times during the game.
Once Donegal get on the ball they are very good; not only are they good at defensive football but when they have possession they rarely spill it or give it away and most of the time the end result is either a wide, which they had a few of and could in fact have won
the game a lot easier, or else a score. They don't turn over the ball easily, and are very controlled on it. I was disappointed with Cork as tactically they were inept. They didn't do enough homework -- like a lot of counties they were worried about how Donegal were playing rather than focusing on how they should play themselves.
I never thought Cork were bothered by how opposing teams played but switching Donncha O'Connor at the start, putting Fintan Goold at centre-back and Paddy Kelly on Mark McHugh told a different story.
When the direct ball went in to Colm O'Neill he looked dangerous, and playing that way consistently would probably have been a better option for Cork. They could have gone further with that tactic and positioned the twin towers of Aidan Walsh and Nicholas Murphy inside and exploited Donegal's weakness there.
I'm a big fan of Walsh but I'm wondering if midfielders know that their primary job is to interact between the two '45s, challenge the kick-outs and read the game. The Donegal midfield exposed Cork. I've always questioned Cork's backs too, they are pushing on a bit. They need to play smarter, recycle a bit better and cut down on basic errors.
Donegal have a lot of teams flustered -- instead of teams just sticking to what they know best, they try to counteract Donegal and that falls straight into their hands because they don't have to change anything.
I'm eagerly waiting to see who they will meet in the final but no matter who it is they'll make it memorable.
Sunday Indo Sport