Eoin Liston: Mayo have point to prove and can stun Red Hands
Published 04/08/2016 | 02:30
After a few false starts and with the safety nets removed, the championship begins in earnest this Saturday.
Dublin have had very few questions asked of them this year but that'll change when Donegal come to town with their shock 2014 semi-final defeat still fresh in the mind.
That seismic loss forced Jim Gavin to radically rethink his defensive structure but minus some of his most valued soldiers - Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey, and possibly James McCarthy too, with Eric Lowndes also a major doubt - this is their first real test.
We know they have strength in depth but can they afford to be missing all of those bodies at the back? Is the Dublin system stronger than the players absent? Finally, a Division 1 team gets a crack at them and we'll find out.
Donegal's only hope is to keep it tight though. They're mature enough to know they're not going to dominate. This is all about containing the Dubs their defence was vulnerable against Cork last weekend.
Their 'thou shall not pass' mantra, built on massive intensity, looked fragile. The Dubs are going to be a different proposition altogether but I expect a different Donegal too.
They'll try keep it quiet up until the last 15 minutes and hang in there like Offaly did with us in 1982 but they'll need 13 brilliant performances out of 15 to give them that opportunity.
Michael Murphy must be at his best and I'm expecting his usual shift around the middle of the pitch mixed with stints at the edge of the square and some aerial bombardment.
They have to test a few of the untested Dublin backs and search for goals. Dublin are at a higher level than Donegal and a low-scoring game is the only way they can win as holes can't be found in Dublin.
You just question whether the hunger that saw them fight tooth and nail to win last year is still there. Will they do likewise when push really comes to shove? We'll know when the game is in the melting pot but it won't happen Saturday and Dublin will win.
My optimism for Mayo's chances against Tyrone multiplied after having lunch with Paddy Prendergast yesterday and I'm expecting an upset as everything is on the line for Stephen Rochford's men.
You don't become a poor team overnight and with a full house in Croke Park, where they've delivered their best performances, and the underdog tag, they can find their best form.
An eye was always on reaching peak fitness at this stage and there were no All-Irelands won or lost in June when they were stunned by Galway. They've shown glimpses of what they can do and if they can put together 70 minutes, they can stun Tyrone.
After all the turmoil, there's a huge prize at stake and they'll be thinking there's an All-Ireland final place there for the taking. Diarmuid O'Connor is back fully fit and has been their best player this year, while I'm expecting Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor to explode into action.
It's been a real stop-start season for Rochford and I think he finally has all the cards arranged. The sweeper system looks refined and if they protect their full-back line they can overturn the odds.
How good are this Tyrone team? There's been a lot of clapping on the back since the Ulster final whereas Mayo have had the heads down, they've been hurting and have a point to prove.
They're not far from their ultimate goal and this is a huge opportunity knocking. Mickey Harte will have to be tactically at his brilliant best to beat this Mayo team.
Will Tyrone start throwing in high ball to Sean Cavanagh to exploit Mayo's full-back line frailties? I don't see it, that's not their style.
They come from deep at pace and Mayo have handled that style before. If they keep doing everything that's gotten them within a hair's breadth of Sam Maguire before, they can prevail and move one step closer to their immortality.