It was one of the most thrilling games Croke Park has ever hosted, a match for the ages that will linger long in the memory of all who witnessed it, particularly if they wore the green and red of Mayo. Dublin was in control and cruising to victory but a remarkable Mayo fightback was capped by a fantastic winning point from the boot of the legendary Ciaran McDonald. Six years on from that epic semi final clash Mayo and Dublin go into battle once more in another high stakes showdown.
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Mayo and Dublin’s paths have diverged greatly since that day. Mayo went on to lose the 2006 final to Kerry and they haven’t made it to another decider since. Dublin finally got their hands on the Sam Maguire last year, ending a 16 year quest for Sam.
The memory of 2006 is fresh in supporters’ minds but the league game between the two sides back in March is playing on the Dublin team’s mind. In that rescheduled game in Castlebar, Dublin was annihilated by Mayo. The scoreline of 0-20 to 0-08 made for a long journey back east and it is an anomaly that Pat Gilroy and his men will be looking to correct tomorrow. For Mayo it will have given them the confidence to belief they have Dublin’s measure.
Dublin’s path to the last four has had a familiar setting in Croke Park. All four of the champions’ previous opponents have been Leinster teams and the Dubs have been unconvincing in their title defence. If Laois had a little self belief and moved a player forward from midfield in the second half of the quarter final it would be the men from the O’Moore county who would be encountering Mayo tomorrow and not Dublin.
Mayo disappointed in the Connacht final, scraping past Sligo by two points. They were unextended and untroubled by Down in their quarter final stroll to victory but an incident from that game will have serious repercussions for tomorrow’s match.
Attack will be crucial for both teams and the two sets of forwards have questions hanging over them.
Andy Moran’s knee injury in the Down game was a cruel blow for the player and his county. Added to the acrimonious departure of Conor Mortimer before the Connacht final, it has shorn Mayo of creativity and panache in attack. Attacking guile helped Mayo make that remarkable comeback six years ago especially Ciaran McDonald’s stunning winning point but the Mayo of 2012 lack anyone with the Crossmolina man’s sublime skill and style.
Cillian O’Connor’s unerring accuracy from the placed ball has helped Mayo this year but the rest of the forwards will have to step up to the mark to overcome the problems posed by Moran’s injury.
Dublin’s forwards too have doubts. The attack has failed to fire so far this season, leaving Dublin heavily reliant on Bernard Brogan. The St Oliver Plunketts/ Eoghan Ruadh man has not been in sparkling form this summer although the return of older brother Alan Brogan should ease the burden on his shoulders.
Dublin: Alan Brogan has been named in the starting fifteen but doubts persist over his fitness. Last year’s footballer of the year has been out for seven weeks with a groin injury and Pat Gilroy has named him in the team ahead of Eoghan O’Gara. However, slight concerns remain over the extent of his recovery and O’Gara could yet start. In the only other change from the quarter final win over Laois, Ger Brennan comes into the heart of the defence with Cian O’Sullivan moving to corner back and Philly McMahon dropping to the bench.
Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Rory O’Carroll, Cian O’Sullivan; James McCarthy, Ger Brennan, Kevin Nolan; Eamon Fennell, Denis Bastick; Paul Flynn, Michael Darragh Macauley, Bryan Cullen; Alan Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan.
Mayo: James Horan has made a solitary change from the side that demolished Down in the quarter final. Horan has chosen Enda Varley to replace the injury stricken Andy Moran. The Mayo manager has rejigged his forwards in Moran’s absence with Varley starting at left corner forward and Michael Conroy in the opposite corner. Jason Doherty has been moved to centre forward and 2011 young player of the year Cillian O’Connor starts at full forward.
David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle; Barry Moran, Aidan O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty, Alan Dillon; Enda Varley, Cillian O’Connor, Michael Conroy.
Prediction: If Dublin fans thought that 16 years without Sam residing in the capital was a torture too long to endure, they have nothing on Mayo’s long suffering supporters. The legendary heroes of 1951 were the last men to bring the Sam Maguire home to Mayo. Sixty one years of heartache, near misses and cruel blows have ensued since Mayo last drank from the victory cup.
The Connacht champions know how to beat Dublin, they will be well schooled and drilled by James Horan and there can be no questions over their mental fortitude this time around. However the All-Ireland champions have the better forwards and despite their lacklustre displays so far this season, the attack will click sooner rather than later. Mayo will give Dublin their toughest test to date but the loss of Andy Moran and Conor Mortimer’s exile have weakened Mayo fatally. Dublin to prevail.