‘‘In the world there are believers and then there are non-believers. For all the non-believers out there, I have something to say to you… never underestimate the heart of a champion.”
– Rudy Tomjanovich
Just for a moment transport yourself back ten years. In Gaelic Football the streets of our capital were being set alight by Tommy Lyons and his boys in blue. Hill 16 danced to the tune set by Ray Cosgrove and the glory days were back again. Well so it seemed anyway. Instead in the 2002 All-Ireland Semi-Final Cosgrove and the Dubs suffered heartbreak as his late free to level the game hit the outside of the post and duly fell wide instead of in. Still the capital rejoiced as Dublin were back in the big time and the summer of 2002 was to be the foundation of this return. Instead it would set the tone for nine years of heartbreak. Leinster titles would flow through the middle part of the decade but the third Sunday of September would always elude them. The fact that they usually exited the All-Ireland series on the back of meltdown in Croke Park would only serve to heighten the sense of despair attached to their failure to deliver.
During the same period of time Mayo never had any great difficulty in getting as far as the third Sunday in September. It was what happened when they got there which was the problem. In 2004 they ambushed Tyrone in the quarter-final before dispatching Fermanagh in a semi-final replay. Against Kerry in the final they stood rooted to the spot as the Kingdom erased the heartache they had suffered in ’02 and ’03. The summer of ’06 saw them dispose of Dublin in an all-time classic before repeating the trick of ’04 by failing to show up for the final. The intervening years between then and now saw Mayo football go through a transition period but on Sunday they return to their second successive All-Ireland Semi-Final. Led by James Horan, who suffered his own heartbreak in a Mayo jersey, Sunday will provide Mayo with another chance to earn a date with redemption and to free those who live in the House of Pain that is Mayo football.
The key question is if they are good enough to beat the reigning All-Ireland champions with everything on the line? Many think they are but I have my doubts. Their huge score against Down in the Quarter-Final looks very impressive on paper but the game was played at a pedestrian pace. It was as open a football game as you will see this year as the Down backs could neither mark Mayo attackers or the space they were assigned by the management team. The second half was a non-event and we saw last weekend that tough games can prove crucial as when Donegal turned the screw in the second half Cork reverted to the bad habits that had played a part in the defeats they suffered in previous years.
Despite what many critics would have you believe Dublin were made to work hard by Laois. Maybe Laois did not have the forwards to really make Dublin suffer but they made Dublin work really hard for their scores and it was a far better game than the Mayo/Down game which had preceded it. It is true that while watching the game you never felt that Laois would beat Dublin but that is far more positive for Dublin than negative. This highlights a sense of composure that comes with winning an All-Ireland title and just because the papers can’t write about a free-scoring Dublin should not mean that they are not talked about as the team everyone has to beat because they are. Donegal may be the team of the year so far but last weekend everyone, myself included, thought Cork would have their number. They didn’t and it has left the bullseye on the back of Donegal and I’d imagine Dublin will be more than happy to get a chance to shoot at that particular target.
Many believe that Mayo are going to need more than one goal to progress beyond the challenge of Dublin and if I was in the Mayo camp this would worry me to no end as this Dublin side are not exactly in the business of giving away majors when it really counts. On the other hand they are also more than capable of getting more than one themselves. The Brogan brothers provide a huge threat but they are not the only threat provided by the Dublin attack. Diarmuid Connolly will want to prove that he is still worth his place while Ciaran Kilkenny will be eager to prove that his time to shine has come. Mayo have been robbed of their best ball-winning forward in Andy Moran and his absence may also rob them of the route to the goal which they seem to think will prove so crucial in deciding the outcome of the game. Many will also feel that Mayo will have the upper hand in the midfield battle but watch out for Dublin trying to run the legs out from under Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran. Stopping Stephen Cluxton and his kickouts in a league game in McHale park is very different than stopping them in Croke Park.
This Dublin team may not be getting the credit it deserves but that will not bother them to any great degree as the team moves to the beat of hard work, honesty and results which means they are as far removed as possible from the tune which was set by Tommy Lyons, Ray Cosgrove and Hill 16 a decade ago.
Dublin -2 pts (Evens with William Hill)
Bernard Borgan Anytime Goalscorer (9/4 with Boylesports)
Diarmuid Connolly Anytime Goalscorer (7/2 with Boylesports)