COMING out of Croke Park on Sunday, a former Mayo manager tried to counter what he had just seen by theorising that teams who win All-Ireland semi-finals by large margins go on to lose finals while those who receive sterner tests are better placed to claim silverware.
Let’s consider first what a big win constitutes.
Three years ago, Donegal beat Dublin by six points. Six is a reasonably large margin and Donegal were beaten the next day out by Kerry, who needed two attempts to beat Mayo. In 2011, Kerry saw off Mayo by nine points only for Stephen Cluxton to then dash their dreams.
Dublin, on the other hand, just about defeated Donegal in their infamous semi-final.
In 2008, Tyrone did have an easier time of it against Wexford in their semi-final than Kerry facing Cork and claimed the title but the year previous Cork defeated Meath by 10 points before Kerry, who squeaked past Dublin, humbled them in the first all-Munster All-Ireland final.
Mayo won a classic 2006 semi-final against Dublin prior to Kerry thrashing them after they were six points better than Cork yet the Kingdom enjoyed twice that margin over their neighbours in 2005 and Tyrone, having been put to the pin of their collar by Armagh in that immense semi-final, were too good for them in the final.
Kerry hockeyed Cork by 15 points in 2002 ahead of Armagh trumping them come September. And let’s not forget Meath in 2001, who embarrassed Kerry in their last-four but found themselves wanting in the final against Galway, who had been tested by Derry.
There are years that support and contradict the ex-Mayo manager’s argument but a Mayo person can’t be blamed if he takes some solace from a past that hasn’t offered them much. It may even be stressed the past provides Mayo more grounds to be optimistic than the present.
Indeed, Mayo beat Kerry in a semi-final replay on their way to their 1951 glory and unlike Kerry they have never let themselves down against Dublin in the Jim Gavin era.
However, this Dublin group are close to the ultimate final side, rivalling the Kerry groups of 1978 to ’81 and 1929 to ‘32. Up to the league final this year, Brian Fenton didn’t know what it was to lose as a Dublin player in a starting brief but then he and every player on the panel have yet to experience losing an All- Ireland final. Jonny Cooper turns 28 in November and has only suffered one championship defeat in his career. How’s that for history?
The law of averages would suggest Dublin are due a fall in a final and Mayo are ‘owed’ a victory but the law of averages doesn’t apply when you’re anything but average.
Dublin are oblivious to human conditions. Appetite, for one, isn’t a concern when Gavin’s finger rests on the reset button. He is able to write off almost everything his players have achieved in previous seasons. At the same time, the tapered approach to this season was fundamental in ensuring his players peaked at the right time.
The longer the ball is active, the better they look. Dublin don’t look for breathers. Sunday’s semi-final rivalled the 2013 final win over Mayo for the amount of time the ball was in play. Dublin also broke the record for the amount of hand-passes with 320.
Ciarán Kilkenny’s 53 possessions against Donegal in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final was the subject of much discussion last year but he bettered it against Tyrone, exceeding the 60 mark.
Mayo won’t be facing the Dublin side they brought to replays these last two years, rather a team firmly on their way to redefining the game.
Mayo in recent times have highlighted the failings of the blanket defence yet by dismissing Tyrone with consummate ease Dublin have effectively killed off the tactic. Now, few if any teams are capable of doing what Dublin do but they are the market leaders and their brand’s strength was further underlined.
Since last year’s final replay, it’s regularly been said Mayo would win an All-Ireland when it was least expected. September 17 may just be that occasion but the hurt Dublin have inflicted these past two seasons shrinks as a consideration against these All-Ireland champions.
The pragmatism that has brought Mayo here yet again is what they must bank on. After a phenomenal season in which all their faults have been exposed only for them to repair them on the go, a victory isn’t beyond them.
Those nine games, two of them featuring extra-time, give them a wealth of football that dwarfs Dublin’s five.
However, what Gavin’s side seemingly lack in exposure they compensate for in their St Clare’s training centre. In 2011, the B team, aka the Killer B’s, were instrumental in keeping the first team on their toes.
Now, that B team is populated by a four-time All Star in Paul Flynn, the pair of Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley, previous footballer of the year award winners, the deadly Kevin McManamon and the outrageously gifted Diarmuid Connolly.
Eoghan O’Gara and Cormac Costello are amongst the side too. If they can’t find favour with Gavin to start, then nobody can. History may be kinder to Mayo but it’s history that Dublin are making.
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