Tomás Ó Sé: Dubs have superior firepower to pass first major test
Mayo need more from Cillian O'Connor - especially if Aidan O'Shea is under pressure
Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30
The sell-out signs have been hoisted up around Croke Park well in advance of this one. We shouldn't be surprised by that. Dublin and Mayo is a licence to thrill.
The championship is shaping exactly as we thought it might - the best three teams in the game left standing.
This game has potentially everything; two teams who have wiped everything in front of them playing plenty of attacking football.
At last it's a proper test for Dublin from a team that will match them physically, close them down, run at them and hit their full-back line with testing high ball that will stick.
Dublin have been shooting in the dark somewhat up to now. Even the bit of noise Fermanagh made wasn't that loud. It didn't get under their skin that much, despite what people might like to think. When you are winning games by so much so often there is inevitably going to be some switch-off.
Mayo have had a more winding road but even at that Donegal weren't the same team of old, no matter what anyone says. That was evident against Galway. The longer the championship went on, the less convincing they became.
There are so many variables. Lee Keegan, the best half-back in the game, coming up against Diarmuid Connolly, the best half-forward, once again. Aidan O'Shea in against Rory O'Carroll. What O'Shea did to Neil McGee and his squadron the last day for that goal should strike fear into every defender. Unmarkable.
But there's something I like about Rory O'Carroll. He's a cool customer that responds well to a bit of pressure. Dublin can struggle sometimes without him.
They may have to go back to their 2011 blueprint when Ger Brennan took up a deeper role in front of his full-back line. Cian O'Sullivan is equally equipped for watchman duties and can look after his own patch as well.
Inevitably, one of the fascinations is how Mayo deal with Cluxton's kick-out. He destroyed them in the last 10 minutes of the All-Ireland final two years ago but by that stage Seamus O'Shea was off and Aidan had run his race.
Like Kerry with Tyrone last week, Mayo will look to force Cluxton to kick long in the belief that they have the advantages further afield. But I'm not so sure. I think if Dublin really attack Mayo where they are strongest they can make a statement.
Sizing up Cluxton's kick-outs is like facing one of those baseball pitching machines. They come fast, at speed and with such a range of accurate distance settings. It's on you before you have time to draw your bat. How many times have Dublin scored within, say, 20 seconds of a short- to medium-range Cluxton kick-out?
But Mayo have, arguably, the best work ethic of the three remaining teams and that starts with Cillian O'Connor in the corner. He typifies that effort, that willingness to work back and provide the first line of defence. Remember his two steals against Kerry in last year's drawn game? Show too much of the ball to these Mayo forwards and you're dicing with death.
It's another mark of the modern game that forwards are tackling like that. How much success has Donaghy had it over the years, even in All-Ireland finals, how many knew Johnny Buckley can tackle like that prior to last week's game? Paul Flynn has it down to a fine art. But O'Connor is as good as any anyone.
That said, I'm still have a few question marks placed against him as a really top forward. The word 'marquee' is thrown but how do you really qualify that? Sometimes Cillian can shoot the lights out but against Donegal the last day he just didn't do enough. For Mayo to prosper, they need a bigger return from him, especially if Aidan O'Shea is under pressure.
Dublin's three key players over the last four years have been Cluxton, Flynn and Michael Darragh Macauley. They have set themselves standards that the normal footballer finds it almost impossible to meet. Macauley and Flynn haven't quite met those standards so far this season and Macauley has been in and out of the team. But they have to go with him for this game.
Personally, if I was a Mayo player, I'd be delighted not to see him starting. He brings something different with those barnstorming runs. He stops, you think you have him cornered but then he takes off again. Like trying to trap a piece of paper in the wind.
One player Dublin should be making more of is Alan Brogan. He's such a clever footballer with those little 20-metre pop passes that open doors for others.
They look easy but they're not always easy to see. Alan has that, just as Gooch and James O'Donoghue have it and I feel Dublin's attack is better, especially Bernard, with Alan involved. For me, Dublin just have too much in attack and I take them to win by two points.
A word on Kerry. It's a fantastic achievement to have minor and senior teams back in All-Ireland finals for the second successive year.
They had their homework done on Tyrone. Peter Crowley on Seán Cavanagh, Jonathan Lyne on Peter Harte, David Moran on Mattie Donnelly were perfect match-ups. I felt Kerry probably had the edge on these three battles and that was the cornerstone.
Tyrone posed plenty of questions but every time they threw something at Kerry, Kerry had a response. That was impressive. The impact Paul Geaney had struck me for his ability to comfortably win his own ball over his head and score.
It's something you expect from the likes of Aidan O'Shea, Michael Murphy and Donaghy but not from corner-forwards in the modern game. The point he scored off his left foot? You don't see that often any more from a player in his position. He'll pose plenty of headaches for the management over the next three weeks but it's not the end of Kieran Donaghy, not by a long shot.