Ciarán Whelan: 'Dublin will need to be ready for Mayo's intensity and hunger, they'll look to bring war to Croke Park'
Turn back the clock just a few weeks to the meeting of Kerry and Mayo in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney and the Connacht side looked in serious trouble. Beaten by the Kingdom by ten points, with the men in green and gold easing up and their fans in jubilant form.
Yet here we are looking ahead to this weekend, with Mayo just one step away from All-Ireland Final Sunday.
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Last Saturday's victory for James Horan’s men at home in Castlebar typified this Mayo team. It was full of manic energy, a very high tackle count, great physicality. They could have won by more but their shot-to-score ratio let them down.
However, you have to really admire Mayo. While their form is inconsistent, they have illustrated great mettle to work their way through round after round and when they had to deliver, they did.
From last Saturday’s game, they have only had seven days to prepare for an entirely different test though. That has to be a factor.
Some will argue that it will suit Mayo, as they have been massively buoyed by their victory, and especially the nature of it, against Donegal. They are battle-hardened now and have momentum on their side, but playing two huge games in such quick succession could prove decisive, especially if Dublin get an early run on them.
Dublin will need to be ready for Mayo's intensity and hunger – they’ll look to bring war to Dublin.
I think the Dubs will be ready and fresh to the incredible demands, mental and physical, that Saturday’s duel will bring.
While Dublin played Tyrone in Omagh last Sunday and Jim Gavin and his management will have learned a few things, they really have been preparing for this weekend since half-time in their Super 8 Phase 2 clash with Roscommon.
With the outcome already decided, Dublin could start to plan for this weekend. Just look at the substitutions they made, and the timing of them, in the second half against the Rossies.
Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion were both withdrawn in the 38th minute, while nine minutes later Michael Fitzsimons and Jack McCaffrey were called ashore to be followed by Con O’Callaghan in the 52nd minute.
None of those played against Tyrone so the strategy was to have them fully-charged to face their semi-final opponents, who have turned out to be Mayo.
The opening 10-15 minutes could be vital on Saturday as Mayo will look to rattle the Dubs. They might look back to the 2016 drawn All-Ireland final and see how they didn’t really let Dublin build any proper momentum
In that opening half, Dublin were struggling big time and but for two fortuitous goals, were in serious trouble.
The first came in the ninth minute, when Brian Fenton’s goal attempt was saved by David Clarke before Bernard Brogan’s effort on the rebound got two deflections off Mayo players before crossing the line.
A little over 10 minutes later, Diarmuid Connolly placed Dean Rock with a superb free in behind the Mayo full-back line, the Kickhams man fumbled possession but the ball was deflected again to the net by the in-rushing Colm Boyle.
So after 22 minutes of that final, Dublin led by 2-0 to 0-3! Mayo will look to bring the manic nature of their play to Croke Park on Saturday in the hope of unseating the reigning All-Ireland champions.
James Horan, his management and players deserve credit for getting their match-ups right Last Saturday, but Dublin will pose far more selection and tactical conundrums than Declan Bonner’s side.
Managements can immerse themselves so deep into getting the match-ups right that, on occasion, it can back-fire and stymie their own attacking game.
Rival bosses Horan and Gavin have big calls to make in advance of Saturday and no doubt tweaking will need to be done over the course of the contest.
I think that Lee Keegan will be given the job of man-marking Brian Fenton. Maybe off Dublin kick-outs he'll swap with one of the O'Shea brothers, but in terms of getting around the park and erecting road blocks for Fenton at every turn, Keegan is the one Horan might turn to.
That could free up Aidan O’Shea for the role he has executed to telling effect for Mayo in recent games.
He is now playing more between the two 45s, helping out their defence through the centre alongside Colm Boyle and setting up attacks, but not trying to do absolutely everything all over the park and then running on empty near the conclusion of big games in Croker.
For that reason I think Dublin might elect to play James McCarthy beside Fenton to give the Raheny man support and try to occupy Aidan O'Shea. There really are some fascinating potential head-to-heads in this clash.
Paddy Durcan was very much a key man for Mayo last weekend. Not alone did he negate the influence of Ryan McHugh, but he also kicked three points from play.
The speculation is that he is going to be handed another very testing task for Saturday on Jack McCaffrey.
However, McCaffrey is a different type of player to McHugh. Durcan gave McHugh some room last week and invited him to take him on. He proved more than capable then of stopping him in his tracks, but McCaffrey is quicker and physically stronger.
Jack can be close to unmarkable and it could be another of the great head-to-heads that will have a major impact on the eventual outcome.
I expect Dublin will make some positional adjustments to their attack from the start, with Ciarán Kilkenny moving to the inside line.
Dublin will look to put the Mayo full-back line under intense pressure from the get-go in the hope of an early goal and sowing seeds of doubt in Mayo’s head that once again the Dubs have rained on their parade.
We’ve a fascinating encounter in prospect and I wouldn't rule out Diarmuid Connolly being introduced off the bench with 20 minutes to go in the hope that he can unlock the Mayo defence and pave the way for a Dublin victory.
The law of probability suggests Mayo have to defeat Dublin at some stage, something they have not managed in league or championship during Jim Gavin's tenure.
The Connacht men are tried and tested in this summer’s championship and are buoyed by their victory over Donegal.
They'll bring massive intensity to the game but I think Dublin will match that and their greater firepower, know-how and efficiency in attack will see them to victory.
So who would they face in the All-Ireland decider?
I think it will be Tyrone in a repeat of last year’s final.
When you weight it up, while Kerry look like some day their forwards will really blitz some opposition, I think Tyrone have the defensive shield to keep their scoring down to such a degree that Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly can inspire a shock at the other end.