Peter Canavan: Dublin's depth of talent will bury Mayo's dream
Published 16/09/2016 | 12:57
The 2013 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo probably wasn't a classic, but neither was it lacking in drama or excitement; yet my abiding memory of that is of something that happened off the pitch at the final whistle.
I was in the Hogan Stand watching the game, and in the seat beside me was an aunt of one of the Mayo players, and her tears started to flow. Heartbroken at yet another agonising final defeat, I can still remember her words as she sobbed: "God almighty, how many times are we going to have to suffer this?"
There was nothing I could really say to her, but I could fully understand where she was coming from. Having been part of a Tyrone team that fell agonisingly short so many times, I know what we put our families and supporters through.
I knew their passion for the team, and I could see the heartache on their faces after big-match defeats. As players, we knew there was only one way to sort it
Having struggled for many years, we had developed an inferiority complex taking on big teams like Kerry; we had to remove the aura that we had put around them.
Winning the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final did that, and beating them in the final two years later effectively banished it.
Mayo's problem is a bit different to ours. Their Achilles heel is not the opposition but the occasion. On their day, they can beat anyone, as their record shows. Three years running, they knocked out reigning All-Ireland champions: Cork (2011), Dublin (2012), and Donegal (2013).
In the latter two years, they lost finals to Donegal (by four points) and Dublin (one point). Two other finals were lost in the noughties, two more in the '90s. Fair to say then that Mayo have a final problem.
Which is why Stephen Rochford and his management team have a big task in reminding the players all this week that they have a match to play, not an occasion.
I think he and his players have to take a leaf out of Tipperary's book and the way they approached Kilkenny. From the moment the sliotar was thrown in you could see how Tipp played to a specific plan and were relentless. Even when they made mistakes, you could see they didn't let anything unsettle them.
They were ravenous for man and ball, and even when Kilkenny got their goals, they didn't flinch. They never let up and I'd say they had something like 12/13 players play to their potential.
If Mayo are to win they will have to do the same
This means they will have to go at Dublin from the start. The Dubs have started nearly all their matches with engines at full capacity, setting the tempo and imposing their game on the opposition. Mayo can't afford to let this happen on Sunday.
Mayo will have to stem this early blue tide, but equally they cannot afford to be ill-disciplined. Yes, they must get under Dublin's skin but while they will have to be ruthless, they cannot afford to be reckless.
I think if Mayo over-concentrate on disrupting the Dubs, they run the risk of taking their eye off the ball.
No question, they've got to up their intensity to a level that they've only really shown in one game to date (against Tyrone), but they can't afford to do it at a cost of conceding frees and getting cards. Dean Rock's incredible accuracy from placed balls - 38 points from his last 41 frees - will punish any lack of discipline inside 50 yards.
I fancy Tony McEntee will have a big role in formulating the Mayo game-plan. Here's a man who has won and lost finals with Armagh and was central to the success of the greatest club team of all time with Crossmaglen. He will want to bring Mayo close to the edge, but without going over the precipice
Unlike most teams Dublin have encountered this year, Mayo will probably opt to go one-on-one and apply big pressure in the middle third.
The diamond of Cian O'Sullivan, Brian Fenton, Michael Darragh Macauley and Diarmuid Connolly is the Dubs engine room. Mayo will need to stall that engine.
It goes without saying they will have to attack Stephen Cluxton's kick-out - something which Kerry and Donegal did at various stages to good effect. However, I think Mayo will need to do it relentlessly, a ploy which is very hard to maintain as players get tired and lose concentration.
The stats on Cluxton's short kick-outs underline his importance. If you break it down forensically, which I'm sure Rochford's team will do, Dublin find it four times more difficult to get scores when he has to bomb it down the middle, as opposed to going short.
If Mayo can stop Cluxton from finding Dublin players inside his own '40' then Mayo will fancy the chances of Seamus O'Shea, Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Tom Parsons and Aidan O'Shea getting their hands on the ball because they have the physicality to more than match them. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
I think it's going to be a fascinating game and the likely match-ups - Keegan on Connolly, Philly McMahon on Aidan O'Shea, Jonny Cooper on Cillian O'Connor - should be worthy of the admission price alone, but despite a long-held belief that Mayo are capable of finally reaching the promised land, I think Dublin will win.
Why? The two big concerns I had for the Dubs this year - their hunger levels and their full-back line without Rory O'Carroll - were put to bed in emphatic terms against Kerry.
In the face of real adversity, having conceded those two goals before half-time, they held thier nerve; and when push came to shove in the last ten minutes, they showed that they had the desire and the ability to cope with the best that their great rivals threw at them.
That semi-final was one of the best matches I have had the pleasure of watching in the last decade, and when you consider that both Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn had quiet games by their standards (before being substituted), if you were a Mayo supporter you'd have to be worried about a backlash from these two.
Brogan also has a great record against Mayo whereas Dublin were able to negate the threat of Aidan O'Shea for both games in the All-Ireland semi-final last year.
If I were from Mayo, I'd also be worried about the difficulty they have with frees on the right-hand side. Against Tipp the last day, both Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor missed kicks off their favoured right boots; Evan Regan was then brought on and he missed one with his left peg.
I am sure that is something Jim Gavin and the Dublin brains trust will have noted, and won't be slow about exploiting. Mayo also don't have the same level of strength in depth as their opponents.
The irresistible form of so-called supersub Kevin McManamon has guaranteed him a starting place, and the offshoot has been that it has helped increase competition places among the forwards. The likes of Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion, Eoghan O'Gara and Cormac Costello must all be chomping at the bit.
They are some incredible options for Gavin to have, particularly if he has to look over his shoulder with 20 minutes to go. No other manager in the country has that depth of talent at their disposal and ultimately it should propel the Dubs to back-to-back All-Irelands for the first time in 39 years.
I just hope I don't bump into that Mayo player's auntie again.
PS Anyone wishing to get an early sample of the pre-All-Ireland final atmosphere should come along to the Na Fianna clubhouse on Dublin's Mobhi Road tomorrow evening. Former Mayo manager James Horan, Paul Earley, Senan Connell and myself will be at a special preview evening in aid of Children's Heart Centre at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
Sky Sports presenters Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney will chair proceedings which get underway at 8.30.