The case for Mayo, is Keegan comfortable at full-back and what left-field tactics could we see?

1. The case for Mayo

AS MUCH AS Dublin have made light work of their run to the All-Ireland final in recent seasons, the showpiece games tend to be close affairs. Mayo have the athletes to live with Dublin and their full-court press will offer something entirely different to what Dessie Farrell’s side have experienced so far. 

If Mayo can avoid the concession of an early goal and stay with the champions for the opening 20 minutes, they’ll give themselves a right chance of being there or thereabouts when the final whistle sounds. 

This will be the day where Jack McCaffrey’s absence will be felt the most by Dublin. In last year’s semi-final, Mayo sacrificed Paddy Durcan as a wing-forward to handle McCaffrey’s forays forward.

Newcomer Robbie McDaid has improved with every game and bagged 1-2 against Cavan, yet James Horan won’t feel the need to move Durcan out of his best position at wing-back this time around. The Castlebar Mitchels man is one of the form players in the championship and will be a driving force for Mayo in the middle third. 

2. Psychology of a different final build-up 

The general consensus seems to be that the empty stadium will suit Mayo this evening. The logic being that their rookies don’t have the usual build-up and hype to deal with, and they should be able to better focus on the game without the assault on their senses that comes with 80,000 screaming supporters. Also there won’t be any anxiety coming off the stands if Mayo find themselves leading with the finish line in sight.

But if anything Dublin have looked like a team playing without any pressure since the restart. Bernard Brogan and McCaffrey have spoken recently about how much Dublin felt the weight of history as they neared the five-in-a-row last season. With the Drive for Five completed, Sky Blues have looked like a team playing without any mental constraints since the restart.

For a group so used to performing in front of tens of thousands of fans, it’s been interesting to see how little the lack of crowds has affected them. They’re clearly an intrinsically motivated bunch and haven’t lost any of their hunger or shown a hint of complacency so far.

They’ve looked nervous in the early stages of previous finals, particularly in last year’s drawn final with Kerry and the 2016 decider when two calamitous Mayo own goals spared Dublin from defeat. Nerves are less likely to be an issue this time around, with less distractions and outside noise.

The Dublin team before last year’s semi-final.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Mayo’s full back line concerns

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Mayo shipped 3-13 against Tipperary and their full-back line looked particularly vulnerable to the high ball. Lee Keegan doesn’t appear entirely comfortable with his role on the last line of defence, while Chris Barrett has yet to hit top form either. 

The threat of Con O’Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny in particular will worry Horan. Dublin will rotate their front six, probing for a mismatch that will make the Mayo defence uncomfortable. 

Dublin defend as a unit while Mayo do it more individually. The Westerners’ man-on-man approach could see their defence dragged to one side, with Dublin searching for a quick transfer to a player isolated in one-on-one in front of David Clarke’s goalmouth.

The positioning of Stephen Coen at centre-back could be crucial but if he’s tasked with following Kilkenny, it could expose the centre of the Mayo defence. They shipped eight goal chances against Tipperary and will need to sharpen up considerably in this regard if they’re to keep Dublin’s high powered attack at bay.

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4. Dublin selection issues

Farrell has named an unchanged starting 15 but he may yet make a late change or two prior to the throw-in. All-Stars Brian Howard and Paul Mannion were both hampered by injuries early in the campaign and have been forced to settle for bench roles so far in the championship.

Both men offer a serious punch off the bench and if the game is in the melting pot in the final quarter they’d be expected to cause major damage against a tiring Mayo defence. 

Farrell may decide he can’t risk starting without Howard, who grew into one of the Dublin leaders over the past two campaigns. Sean Bugler is in danger of being sacrificed if the manager opts to introduce the Raheny star from the start.

Mannion is less likely to start given Paddy Small has began every game since the restart, but the Kilmacud Crokes forward will probably replace him by the 50th minute mark. 

Another contender could be introducing Philly McMahon from the outset to take Aidan O’Shea. It’s been some time since McMahon started a championship game for Dublin but he was called into action in the semi-final to take care of Thomas Galligan when Cavan started to go route one with their deliveries. Davey Byrne could drop out in that scenario.

Jonny Cooper could end up tracking Cillian O’Connor again.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The quality of Dublin’s bench is another big factor in their favour. Cormac Costello’s seven-point haul off the bench against Laois is an indicator of their strength in depth, with others veterans like Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh Macauley and Cian O’Sullivan capable of steering the ship home in the closing stages.

In contrast Mayo have used 20 subs to date who’ve scored a grand total of 0-3 between them. But they do have plenty of experience in reserve. It could be a day when big contributions are required from Keith Higgins, Tom Parsons and Colm Boyle in the closing stages.

5. What left-field tactics could we see?

Managers have a tendency of pulling a rabbit out of the hat on All-Ireland final day, like Brian Cody did with Walter Walsh in 2012, Davy Fitzgerald with Shane O’Donnell in 2013 or Stephen Rochford with Robbie Hennelly for the 2016 replay.

Mayo are unlikely to deviate from their starting XV, with a fit again Mark Moran a possible replacement for Ryan O’Donoghue at centre-forward. Given his lack of game-time of late, it’s unlikely Horan would make that call.

In terms of match-ups, might we see Keegan recast into a midfielder to track Brian Fenton’s every move? Rochford employed the Westport ace in a similar role on Enda Smith in 2017 and it worked to good effect.

Farrell could conceivably stick Howard into midfield and switch James McCarthy to full-back to handle O’Shea which would be a fascinating dual.

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