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Martin Breheny: Defending champions have the know-how to answer all questions

IF Dublin and Mayo were told at the start of the championship that they could reach the All-Ireland semi-final without playing any county that had won the All-Ireland or Division 1 league titles over the last 12 years, they would have backed themselves heavily for a September 2 showdown.

If Dublin had been told that their path would include Leinster opposition only, they would have assumed it was business as usual as the east's predominant force. And if Mayo learned that they would win Connacht without meeting Galway or Roscommon before encountering a Down team which was well beaten in the Ulster final, they would have said a silent thanks to the sporting gods.

Compare this to Donegal, who had to beat Cavan, Derry, Tyrone, Down and Kerry for the right to take on the 2010 All-Ireland champions Cork in the semi-final.

But all this will mean nothing to the losers tomorrow evening.

And the losers are likely to be Mayo, whose case comes up short under a few headings. They won a poor Connacht championship and while they can't be blamed for the inadequacies of others, it didn't provide the severity of test required to bring about the improvement they need at the very highest level.

Fellow Division 1 travellers Down would have been expected to provide solid opposition, but turned in a terrible display in the All-Ireland quarter-final. In particular, their defence was woefully inept, allowing Mayo to easily unpick their locks.

Barry Moran was a central figure in procuring Mayo's attacking gains, but misses tomorrow's game, which further tilts the balance Dublin's way. It's a real pity -- both for Mayo and Moran -- that he's not around to impose his wide range of expertise on the Dublin defence. And whatever the background circumstances of Conor Mortimer's departure from the Mayo squad before the Connacht final, his absence is a big loss, all the more so following Moran's injury.

Dublin performances this season have left unanswered questions about whether they're anywhere near the level which brought them an All-Ireland title last year, but having reached those heights once, they will feel capable of pressing on now that the summit is in sight again.

Besides, they have been a more consistent championship force than Mayo in recent years, not least last season when they grew with each challenge, whereas James Horan's men collapsed against Kerry in the second half of the semi-final, having stunned Cork in the quarter-finals.

Big-time experience apart, Dublin have a major advantage in the strength of their back-up troops.

If they are misfiring at any stage, Pat Gilroy can call on talent of the calibre of Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O'Gara, Philip McMahon, Barry Cahill, Ciaran Kilkenny and 'Mossy' Quinn to freshen things up. It's a luxury not available to Horan.

Mayo's big win over Dublin in the league last March, plus their sensational recovery which earned them a one-point victory in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final, will have pumped plenty of confidence into their tanks, but they will need more than that to win this one.

Their forward-line just doesn't look good enough to rack up a match-winning score, certainly by comparison with their Dublin counterparts, who are keeping McManamon, O'Gara and Kilkenny off the team.

It all points to Dublin reaching successive All-Ireland finals for the first time since 1994-95.

Verdict -- Dublin

Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, C O'Sullivan; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; E Fennell, D Bastick; P Flynn, MD Macauley, B Cullen; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan.

Mayo: D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; B Moran, A O'Shea; K McLoughlin, J Doherty, A Dillon; E Varley, C O'Connor, M Conroy.

Irish Independent