Mayo v Dublin: Three things to watch
Will goals be on the mind for Mayo? Just how important is Alan Brogan to the Dubs? Who'll rule the roost around the middle? All are important factors to consider in what should be a cracking All-Ireland semi-final.
Will Mayo go for the jugular?
It’s not something that’s traditionally associated with Mayo teams, but one can’t help but notice that they’ve been going for goals early and often in all of their Championship games to date.
Against Leitrim and Down, the policy worked a treat and yielded seven goals between the two games, but against Sligo in the Connacht Final numerous point chances were spurned in favour of trying to raise a green flag and they were lucky that it didn’t come back to haunt them in the end.
On Sunday, James Horan and his charges will have to get the balance right because while every opportunity to take any score will have to be taken, Mayo will also know that a goal could prove decisive and they will probably have to score at least one and maybe more if they are to triumph.
While Andy Moran’s absence as both a scorer and provider of goals is a huge blow, in Cillian O’Connor (v Kerry 2011), Jason Doherty (v Down 2012), Michael Conroy (v Kerry in 2004 and Down 2012) and Kevin McLoughlin (v Cork 2011) Mayo have players who have scored important goals on big occasions in Croke Park and won’t be fazed if the chance arises on Sunday.
Dublin’s goal threat at the other end is just as potent of course and the winning and losing of the game could well come down to who can rattle the onion sack most often.
The Alan Brogan factor
After weeks of hearsay and speculation last season’s Footballer of the Year has been named to start, but then again he was named to start against Laois and didn’t so we’ll only know on Sunday afternoon whether rumours of his resurrection have been greatly exaggerated.
Dublin fans will be praying that he’s alright because he’s absolutely crucial to the Dubs attack and with all due respect to what he did last year and before his injury against Meath, it is his absence that has really illustrated his importance to the current set-up.
He's been named to start, but how fit is he?
Michael Dara Macauley playing in an unfamiliar role has also been a factor, but the Dubs have looked shapeless and unbalanced in Alan Brogan’s absence and have lacked somebody with Brogan’s class and composure to settle things down and pick out the right passes. He’s also usually good for two or three points himself, and in what is a huge testament to his character, they nearly always come at a crucial juncture in a match.
Bernard Brogan stands to benefit most from his brother’s return but Diarmuid Connolly, fairly quiet this season aside from a couple of stupid red cards, has a big game in him as well and would thrive on decent supply. The current Dublin side are all about the collective and the team is greater than the sum of its parts, but Brogan makes them tick. Whether he starts or not there will certainly be question marks over his fitness, but if he can fire on most or all cylinders then the Dubs may well on their way to a second final in a row.
Who’ll win the battle in the skies?
It’s a long time ago now, but rarely have Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts been counteracted as effectively as they were by Mayo in their trouncing of the All-Ireland Champions during the league.
Cluxton’s deliveries are so varied that Paul Flynn wins as many kickouts as Eamon Fennell and Denis Bastick and the wing-forward will likely be on Cluxton’s radar again on Sunday because he’ll want to avoid Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea as much as possible.
Midfield in the modern day is completely different than what has gone before but against a pairing previously heralded as the best in the country last Sunday, Neil Gallagher showed how the securing of clean possession can still make a huge difference.
Michael Dara Macauley will join Bastick and Fennell in their attempts to disrupt the Mayo duo, but if Moran and O’Shea can continue their sterling form to date it will be a big fillip for the Green and Red. If they tire, Ronan McGarrity, Seamus O’Shea, Jason Gibbons and Danny Geraghty will all be available from the bench, so it will be hell for leather from the first whistle.
Jack O'Connor has long been a fan of attacking the opposition's strengths and it is a maxim that Pat Gilroy will probably adopt on Sunday. Mayo might be underdogs but if they can come through that particular test unscathed, they'll be hard to stop.