Tuesday 23 January 2018

Saturday night lights: Mayo have a big chance to lay down a marker against Dublin

It's 11 games and almost five years since they last beat Dublin but, having recovered from a poor League start, Rochford's men need to set a new agenda in Croke Park

Mayo players celebrate after their victory against Dublin in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Brendan Moran Sportsfile
Mayo players celebrate after their victory against Dublin in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Brendan Moran Sportsfile

There is no immediate prize to be picked up but a win for Mayo over Dublin in Saturday's Allianz League clash in Croke Park would be worth much more than the two points which could move them to the top of the Division 1 table.

Ending Dublin's two-year, 32-game unbeaten run would provide Mayo with an enormous psychological boost, especially after enduring so much misery against Jim Gavin's consistently effective forces in recent years.

For while Mayo have tested Dublin's Championship solidity more resolutely than any other opposition, the bigger picture clearly illustrates the extent of their frustration.

Mayo haven't beaten Dublin in their last 10 attempts in League and Championship over four years, leaving them seeking their first success since winning the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. With seven wins and three draws, it's 11 games since the Dubs last tasted defeat.

Compelling

When the rivalry is stretched out to the last 15 games over eight years, it leaves Dublin ahead 9-2 with four draws.

Yet despite that, there is a widely-held view that Mayo remain best equipped of all the contenders to challenge Dublin, not least because they are one of the few sides that can match the All-Ireland and League champions physically.

And given that Dublin were held to draws by Tyrone and Donegal in the last two games, it may be exactly the right time for Mayo to meet them, especially since Stephen Rochford's men have been very impressive in their last two games.

There's also compelling evidence to support the case that Mayo need to win this year's League title more than any other county, which must be a factor in how they approach every game.

They need to finish in the top two (semi-finals have been abolished) to give themselves a chance of landing the crown for the first time since 2001, and while losing on Saturday would not scupper that ambition, it would leave the Dublin puzzle unsolved yet again.

Mayo know that it needs to be addressed, not just with draws and other close calls, as has been the case over the last few years, but with a victory.

Rochford hasn't specified that the League is a particular target this season but he knows that landing a national title would be hugely encouraging for his squad after the disappointment of the last two years in particular. Ideally it would be crowned by beating Dublin in the final.

Winning the title certainly wouldn't interfere with Mayo's Championship build-up, since there's a six-week gap between the League final and Mayo's first Championship game against Sligo or New York in Castlebar on May 21.

While Mayo have improved considerably since the sloppy opening League performance against Monaghan, Dublin have dipped below their usual high-efficiency levels since beating Cavan in the first round.

Their gritty resolve earned them draws against Tyrone (Croke Park) and Donegal (Ballybofey) but, interestingly, their strike rate dipped to an average of 10.5 points.

Indeed, their total of 1-36 for the opening three games is their lowest for many years, yet they still managed to win once and draw twice. It proves just how adaptable they are, a quality that is likely to be tested to an even greater degree on Saturday. Nonetheless, Gavin will be concerned by the scoring dip.

Mayo have averaged just over three points per game more than Dublin so far but, as in previous years, they remain hugely reliant on Cillian O'Connor's accuracy from frees and open play.

He scored a total of 1-20 (0-6 from play) against Monaghan, Kerry and Roscommon, which accounts for 47pc of Mayo's total. Andy Moran is next highest contributor on 0-4, a point ahead of newcomer Fergal Boland, a member of last year's All-Ireland U-21 team.

Mayo would benefit greatly from a more even scoring spread although, in fairness, they have usually managed to return quite decent yields against Dublin.

They averaged 17 points against the champions in their last four Championship games, which wins more games than it loses. However, while it earned Mayo two draws it wasn't enough to get them through the replays.

Ending Dublin's remarkably long unbeaten run on Saturday would be a massive boost to Mayo, taking them to the top of the table if Tyrone beat Monaghan in Omagh at the same time.

That looked most unlikely after Mayo lost the opening game but given Monaghan's continued good form since then, it may not have been as significant as was thought at the time.

Dublin are 4/7 favourites to beat Mayo (7/4) with the draw at 15/2 despite four of the last 15 games between the counties finishing level.

Irish Independent

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