Does the past offer Mayo any signposts to a different future?
The one victory over Dublin this decade came in the only goalless encounter
Mayo’s goalkeeper David Clarke saves from Bernard Brogan of Dublin in the All Ireland SFC semi-final in September 2012, the last time Mayo beat Dublin in championship. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
What prescriptions from the past can Mayo take for their latest tilt against Dublin on Saturday?
The counties meet for the eighth time this decade in championship and, as has been frequently referenced, Mayo have yet to beat their opponents on any occasion since Jim Gavin took over in 2013. Saturday will be the fourth Mayo management team he has faced – allowing that James Horan is on his second tour of duty.
His previous tenure included the last time Dublin were beaten in the series when as champions they succumbed to an early blitz, and not even a frantic attempt to chase down the deficit in the final quarter could overhaul the Connacht champions.
That semi-final created some controversy over the number of replacements used by Mayo – eight, three of which were designated “temporary replacements for blood injuries” – but it was all done by the book and no follow-up action resulted.
The match underlined the role of goals in this fixture. It was the only one of the counties’ matches this decade that failed to raise a green flag.
This was in keeping with Mayo’s campaign, as Horan pointed out a little tersely at their All-Ireland final media event. Asked had he a plan for a Donegal defence that had conceded just three goals this championship and one last year, he barked: “Do you know how many we’ve conceded? We conceded two.”
The long-term significance lies in the fact that keeping Dublin scoreless – in what was Pat Gilroy’s last match as manager – could be seen in retrospect as a template.
There is no clear pattern to the matches that might offer clues as to the best time to get on top
Over the course of the championship encounters, Mayo have been out-scored in goals by more than double, 11 to five.
In 2012 the margin, 0-19 to 0-16, remains the second biggest of all of the wins, topped only by Dublin’s victory in the 2015 semi-final replay by seven, 3-15 to 1-14.
There is no clear pattern to the matches that might offer clues as to the best time to get on top. Those leading at half-time split two-two between ultimate winners and losers.
Interestingly, despite the reasonable assumption that the winning team might be the one that closes out the match more productively, the county winning the final quarter on the scoreboard has been less likely to win by five to two.
Mayo had to come from behind in both of the drawn matches, winning both the 2015 semi-final and 2016 final last quarter by 0-2. They also won the same period in their final defeats of 2016 and ’17.
Perhaps the nearest anyone has come to a tangible theory of what’s necessary for Mayo to beat Dublin is a man who will be back on Saturday attempting to do just that.
If you get to 20 points, you think you have a chance to beat them, and we got to 19
In the spring of last year when, as reigning Footballer of the Year, he was looking forward to the championship, Andy Moran spelled out his views on the matter as he looked at the 1-17 to 1-16 defeat in the previous year’s All-Ireland.
“Then against Dublin – I’ve always had this 20-point marker in my head. If you get to 20 points, you think you have a chance to beat them, and we got to 19. It was the highest we had got to [Mayo also hit the total in 2012]. I think we got to 1-14 and 15 points previously.
“We got to 1-16 last year, and they still could get to 20 points, so the only team that have beaten Dublin [last year] have got to 20 points. That was Kerry in the national league and I think that’s where you need to get to.”
He had a point. The only match in the series that wouldn’t have been won by 20 points was the 2015 replay when Dublin scored 3-15.