It’s a sign of the times that of the teams fielded by Dessie Farrell and James Horan last Saturday evening, just six Dublin players know what it is to lose to Mayo, as a mere three on the Mayo starting 15 had experience of beating Dublin at senior level.
At this stage, it’s probably a rite of passage for one of Philly McMahon, James McCarthy, Ciarán Kilkenny, Kevin McManamon, or Paddy Andrews to haze new recruits with tales of the bad old days.
David Clarke and Colm Boyle began the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final win, while you have to go back to the 2010 league game for when Tom Parsons last sampled success against Dublin in a playing capacity.
Fifteen times Mayo faced Jim Gavin’s Dublin sides and 15 times they failed to win, 12 of them defeats and two of the three draws those famous Championship Croke Park draws.
Now that Gavin is gone, there will be some hope in Mayo that the spell can be broken in Castlebar on Saturday, but three times Dublin have come to Elverys MacHale Park in the past five seasons, and each time they’ve been too good; on two occasions, far too good. Two years ago, they were handy four-point winners and in 2015, they embarrassed the home side to the tune of 14 points.
“The record is a bit of a monkey on the back, alright,” says Enda Varley, who was on the last Mayo team to beat Dublin eight years ago.
“Then again Dublin haven’t lost to too many teams. But everybody in Mayo would like a win against Dublin even if it is in the league. It would bring massive belief to the younger lads coming into the squad and there is no better barometer in terms of where you are at.
“You can see the standard Dublin and Kerry brought last weekend at the end of January and they’re not that far off Championship pace.
Saturday will give them a fair idea of where they are at.
Like Diarmuid O’Connor, Varley can’t explain why Mayo have generally been underperformed in Castlebar. Winning at home, he recalls, was a big thing for Horan during his first term in charge but the patchy record from recent years carried into the first season of his second reign in 2019.
For all the huge support they receive there, so much of it is lost due to the openness of the venue, which hardly makes it intimidating for opposing teams. But it can’t be just that.
“It’s hard to know,” Varley concedes. “It has been poor, 100%. In 2012, we gave Dublin a good spanking there (0-20 to 0-8) and if you consider that we did that and later beat them in the Championship, league form is very important going into the summer.
“Kieran Shannon (former Mayo sports psychologist andcolumnist) put a big emphasis on the significance of beating teams in the league and what it could translate to in the Championship. They almost go hand in hand.”
Bringing his players into camp the night before league games this season and last (they stayed in Donegal last Friday night), it can’t be said that Horan is falling short in preparations. “Even the routine for home games has changed,” says Varley.
“They go into hotels sometimes even the night before. I know they were in Westport the night before a game last year. It’s something the management are definitely looking at.”
Even though Dublin fielded such an experienced team against Kerry last Saturday, Varley doesn’t anticipate Horan will try and match fire with fire. “He will go with who is showing in training even if they are the younger players.
“Against Donegal, he whipped off Tom Parsons at half-time and gave Jordan Flynn, who is a young member of the squad coming through, the full 70. He will always give younger players the benefit of the doubt.
It would have been easy to whip off Jordan because both weren’t playing well, by all accounts, and leave on the more experienced player, but he didn’t do that.
“Now Tom, this week, will be biting at the bit, especially for this game. James will try and get the balance right, even if it is Dublin. He won’t care.”
Meanwhile, DCU, on their home patch, are highly fancied to win this evening’s Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup decider against final debutants Carlow IT (7.30pm throw-in).
Evan Comerford and Seán Bugler, who were involved for Dublin in the draw with Kerry, will line out for the Glasnevin college while another of last year’s All-Ireland-winning set-up, Paddy Small, will feature.