Battle of the history makers
Mayo have the character and the hunger, but Alan Brogan believes that Dublin's bench might just give them the edge
Every All-Ireland final is special in its own way, but whoever wins today will create a moment in time that will live long in the memories of players and supporters and will also enter the annals of history. Any way we dress it up, it is a game of epic proportions.
Dublin have the chance to create history and complete three-in-a-row for the first time since Kerry in 1986. Dublin's one and only three-in-a-row was 1921-'23. Football became so competitive in the mid-noughties that people thought a team could never dominate again in the way Jim Gavin's side have in the last number of years.
Mayo are still chasing that elusive All-Ireland, last won in 1951. With eight final defeats since then Mayo will feel Sam Maguire is long overdue a visit west. Not unlike ourselves in 2011, a win for Mayo today would see an enormous outpouring of relief and emotion.
I couldn't begrudge Mayo an All-Ireland final win. This team have been to the well so many times, and despite painful defeats and near-misses have shown the character and resilience to come back again. But for us Dubs who were starved for so long until that breakthrough in 2011 it's important to make every opportunity to win that medal count while you have the chance.
Both sets of players will know the opportunity of a lifetime presents itself today. Neither team will take a step back and while the game will be tactical, the blanket defences we have seen recently will go out the window and the tactics of both teams will be to try to take the game to each other.
Dublin Defence v Mayo attack
One of the reasons regularly put forward when examining why Mayo have struggled to get across the line is their lack of a top-class forward. I agree with this - to an extent.
Mayo have great footballers, the O'Connors, Andy Moran, Aidan O'Shea and Kevin McLoughlin can score in their own right, indeed Cillian O'Connor's scoring record is so good that it's what we expect of him now. If he kicks 1-7 in a game it hardly even registers because he does it so regularly.
What Mayo lack, though, is a forward with real killer instinct, a forward who will get a goal from nothing when they need it most, like Bernard has done so many times, and like the 'Gooch' did. This may come back to haunt them.
However, Moran, with 3-21 from play, and Jason Doherty have been in great form this year. If both can reproduce this today and Cillian O'Connor chips in, it gives Mayo a great chance. Jonny Cooper will probably pick up Moran and has done well on him in the past, Michael Fitzsimons may pick up Doherty.
Moran and Doherty could get tied up and I'm not sure if the other four forwards will cause enough damage to win the game for Mayo. Forwards crave space and Cian O'Sullivan is an expert at clogging up the space for opposition forwards. I think number 11 may well be the role for Aidan O'Shea to try and occupy O'Sullivan and pull him away from that space in front of the Dublin 'D' that he patrols so diligently.
Things need to go right for Mayo and sometimes you need a springer in a big game to help you over the line. McLoughlin is a fine footballer and with Jack McCaffrey focused on attacking he will leave an opportunity behind for McLoughlin to exploit if he can get the ball in the right places.
If Mayo can play it smart and occupy O'Sullivan, then they will get one-on-one opportunities. The question remains, are they good enough to exploit them?
Dublin attack v Mayo Defence
The first thing Jim Gavin will address here is the Mayo half-back line. For a long time now this has been the launchpad of so many attacks and the winning of so many games for Mayo. Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan and Lee Keegan have frequently overrun their opposition.
In their semi-final win over Tyrone, we saw Dublin attackers tagging Tyrone defenders right back into the Dublin half. Paul Mannion, a man renowned for his shooting rather than defensive work, had a couple of wonderful turnovers. Expect the same today.
Any time Keegan, Boyle or any of the other Mayo defenders take off there will be a Dublin attacker to tag them all the way. This will be a basic requirement for Jim Gavin. If Dublin shut down this attacking threat they will have gone a long way towards claiming another Sam Maguire.
Up front, Dublin look to have options all over the place. Con O'Callaghan has been a revelation and slotted into the number 11 jersey quicker than I thought he would, although today will be a step up. Paddy Andrews continues to chip in with great scores and a mountain of work, Ciaran Kilkenny adopts a tactical approach but generally finds a lot of space against Mayo.
It all looks very positive for Dublin but remember, just 12 months ago they only scored two points from play in the first half of the All-Ireland final so the Mayo defence, with Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrison in good form, have shown themselves up to the task.
But Dublin hold an ace here in their much-publicised bench. At some stage, Mayo will face fresh legs in the form of Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O'Gara. A massive task awaits the Mayo rearguard if they want to land this All-Ireland. Keeping Dublin below 15 points could win it for them.
Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons certainly won't lack for courage, heart and endeavour. Both will compete hard on Dublin's kick-out. Parsons has looked quite dangerous going forward for Mayo in the last few games but Brian Fenton and James McCarthy ooze class, style and pace.
If they can match the work-rate and intensity of the Mayo pairing they could well be the launchpad for a Dublin performance. Both can defend when asked and both are superb going forward.
The skill sets of the Dublin pairing complement each other nicely as they have a great knack of drifting into dangerous positions, while James McCarthy's pace both on and off the ball is a very potent Dublin weapon. How often have we seen him break the gain line to set up Dublin scores? Shooting ability is probably the only thing James lacks.
It's a massive ask for the Mayo midfield pairing to win this battle but both will be so determined that if there is a chink in the Dublin psyche O'Shea and Parsons will exploit it.
Fenton has been the standout midfielder of the last two years but Mayo won't shy from this challenge today.
The two best goalkeepers in the game go head to head in Croke Park today. Stephen Cluxton and David Clarke are very solid when called into action in open play and rarely make mistakes. Where they will earn their crust this afternoon is with their kick-outs.
Clarke has recovered from the indignity of being dropped for last year's replay and looks to have worked hard on his kick-out strategy in the last 12 months.
Both will look to retain possession at all costs but I'm sure both sets of players will be urged to squeeze the life out of the opposition restarts.
Neither Cluxton nor Clarke will have easy options in this department. Whoever finds their man most often in these pressure moments will come out on top of this battle.
Who can argue with anybody tipping the Dubs to claim a third consecutive title? It will be some achievement in the current era and will put an end to the argument about the 1970s team or this team being better. Win today and they go behind the Kerry team of the '70s and early '80s as the second best team of all time.
Dublin's form line seems to be excellent, comfortably swatting away any challenge to date.
But a little part of me is not sure how they will react to the red-hot intensity of this Mayo team desperate to win an All-Ireland. If Mayo can summon great performances from Aidan O'Shea, Moran, Boyle and Keegan they have more than a fighting chance.
Can Dublin match Mayo's hunger when the game is in the trenches after 50 minutes? I can't answer that question now, Jim Gavin can't answer that question now. Make no mistake, this game, like all recent Dublin-Mayo games, will be in the melting pot at 60 minutes, but I just feel when Dublin roll in the artillery from the bench it may be a bridge too far for Mayo.
I'm going for a narrow Dublin win - and I'm not ruling out them needing a replay to do it.
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