Tomás Ó Sé: Dublin are on the brink of unqualified greatness - and they won't blink
Mayo have more than a fighting chance tomorrow and can bring the game to the wire but Dublin's 'hard b*stards' will find a way
It's been one of those weeks that you sometimes get in football. One of those weeks where you start off thinking 'no way, not a hope' but as the thing gets closer that changes to 'you know what, they might just pull this off yet.'
I believe others are thinking that way about Mayo too. I've had requests for tickets for this final from all over the world this week. And it's more than the usual rush. If I had 40 tickets tomorrow morning I could find a home for them. Texts from New York and London have rolled in. They've come in from around Kerry too. I know a lot of my friends from home are going up tomorrow. They give Mayo a chance, a real chance.
Mayo, of course, will have the support of most neutrals. I know I've always been in awe of their ability to get knocked down and come back for more. No matter what cruel way their hopes would be dashed, both the team and the county would be readying themselves for another tilt at it within a couple of weeks. It's an admirable trait and it will continue until they finally do it. There is only one thing that will sate Mayo people.
Over the winter I watched the row in the county unfold. And I have to admit I didn't like it. I thought to myself 'who do these boys think they are, getting rid of a management team when they have won nothing'. They had reached precisely the same stage in 2015 as they had the year before and here they were calling the shots. It just didn't sit well with me.
I see that whole episode in a different light now. By standing their ground holding out for a new management team, they showed how determined they were to get over the line and finally win the damn thing.
They showed how much it meant to them and they showed how far they would go to get it. If harsh things needed to be said and noses put out of joint then that's what they would do. They showed they would do anything it takes to win. And I have no problem with that sort of attitude. That's the kind of bloody mindedness they'll need tomorrow. That and more.
Because you're coming up against a team that are already the best Dublin have ever produced in my opinion - despite Jim Gavin constantly playing that down. They have a bit of everything. Brilliant individuals who are as classy and stylish as you'll see. But they're not just a showtime team who will fill highlights reels.
They have a hard edge and despite everything they have won, they retain a desire to win more. Against Kerry they could have went away. Having won three All-Irelands in five seasons, they'd have the respect of anyone had they folded in the second half. But they came back. That hunger can't be coached, it's a personality trait.
And at the top of tree is Gavin. I see him being interviewed and I think to myself that the media must hate to see him coming. They used to call us the 'Yerra men' for the stuff we'd say in the interviews. Gavin keeps rambling but he says nothing. He makes us look like we were pouring our hearts out.
And you know why should he be any other way? Why should he tell the media and by extension the public what he's really thinking? As far as Gavin sees it, there are two types of people in the world. Those involved with helping Dublin win the All-Ireland and everyone else.
So his public persona is borne out of a hardness. An unwillingness to give an inch. You see that in the management of his team too. He'll take just about anyone off. Philly McMahon has been subbed. Bernard Brogan too. Fair enough he has the bench to do it but Gavin's message is clear. It doesn't matter who you are - if you are not doing it you'll be fish hooked. It's their biggest strength - they play to a system.
For me, Mayo's strongest area is their defence and their match-ups with the Dublin forwards are key. We'll see Lee Keegan on Diarmuid Connolly (again). Maybe Colm Boyle on Ciaran Kilkenny. Stephen Rochford has options there but he has to get them right. The likes of Boyle, Keegan and Keith Higgins are the launchpad for many of Mayo's attacks. And if they can have the Dublin forwards on the back foot, they might be able to slow down their scoring rate.
I saw Jim McGuinness saying this week that they'll need to be relentless and bring a bit of "anarchy" to win. For me that's a given and is only part of what they'll need. People have asked me how do you beat Dublin in the last few months. And when I start listing off the things required they laugh at me. They need to crack Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs - he's still, to my mind, their most important player. Keep their defenders back and hold that forward line to a minimum. It sounds like a lot and it is, but that's what is required to beat a team like Dublin.
And it is possible.
What I like about Mayo this year is that you can see how deeply their management think about the game. Bringing Alan Dillon in on Joe McMahon against Tyrone worked wonders. And deploying Barry Moran like they did the last day against Tipp paid off too. They are tactically adaptable and, more than ever, that is having an affect on the outcome of big matches. It's another string to their bow.
I don't think Mayo are as good a Dublin man-for-man but how they play their chips could help make up for that.
Dublin are a special team. At half-time in the Kerry game I did an interview pitch side and I was half-cocky given Kerry were five up. I thought we were in good shape. And they came out in the second half and outscored us 0-13 to 0-6.
This Dublin side love it when you come at them. Not only do you have to get a run on them, which is hard to do, but you have to get that run at the right time. Mayo need to be in the game coming down the home stretch and then strike. And they'll have to go through 65 minutes of hell to do that.
I'm told that this Mayo team has more legs and more pace than Kerry, and that they can go at Dublin harder for longer. I'm not sure about that but it's a theory that's out there. And Mayo will hope its true because they'll need every edge they can find. I spoke to a friend of mine in Birmingham this week and he summed the Dublin team up nicely when he called them 'hard b*stards'.
Mayo will have to be harder.
Dublin are on a mission. Whatever they might say in the press, they want to make it back-to-back titles. And I think they'll rise to that challenge. They have a couple of lads who are not at their best. Paul Flynn didn't impose himself the last day but I can't see Gavin going to war without him. Brogan hasn't been at his best either but he's a big-game player. I wouldn't be surprised to see him burst into life tomorrow.
Maybe we're trying too hard to make a case for Mayo. Maybe we want an epic final so badly that we're missing the most obvious thing of all. That Dublin simply have more better players than Mayo and will win the game.
If you take that point of view, you can see them going on one of their scoring bursts and winning with a bit to spare. If that happens, we can't say we weren't warned about Dublin's potency. But I don't see it going down like that. Mayo are too streetwise - they'll give us a game alright and ask plenty of questions.
But then Dublin have answered those questions before. In 2011, we left the door ajar and Dublin forced themselves through the crack. After that game I handed Stephen Cluxton the ball and a lot was made of it. It wasn't a big deal, I just gave him the ball. He deserved it.
Thinking about it during the week, that day we were going for four titles in six years. We missed out but we had no idea what had just started. Looking back at it, handing over the ball to Cluxton was like handing over the baton to go on and dominate. Now it's Dublin looking for four in six years and unqualified greatness. I expect them to take that step.
Dublin by three.