Mayo's league record against Dublin is worse than you think. And if you've been paying any attention at all, you already think it's dismal. You know, for instance, that Mayo haven't come out on top in this fixture since the 0-20 to 0-8 victory in Castlebar in 2012. That's 10 years, nine games and no wins ago. You know this, and still you don't know the half of it.
The numbers are staggering, when you drill down into them. In the past 50 years of league football, there have been 30 meetings between the two counties. Dublin have won 20 of them. Mayo’s return has been just seven victories and the counties have split three draws between them.
Whole generations of Mayo players have come and gone without knowing what it’s like to beat Dublin in the league. After Mayo came through a dour 1985 encounter in Castlebar by 2-5 to 0-4, there wasn’t another Mayo victory in the fixture until 2004. The sides met five times in the league through the late 1980s and the ’90s and Mayo’s best day was a 0-10 to 0-10 draw in November 1996.
The flipside is that for much of the past half-century, to be a Dublin player has meant an automatic two points in the bag when the fixtures have come out. It is entirely possible that the Dublin team Dessie Farrell puts out tonight will contain 15 players who have never lost to Mayo in the league. At most, there will be two – Dean Rock and James McCarthy.
Many will spy the bookies’ odds for tonight and reckon there is money to be made in Mayo as 7/4 outsiders. After all, they are an unbeaten team coming to visit a home side who have been soundly spanked in their first two games. Plus, for good measure, Mayo came out on top in the last Croke Park encounter between the sides, last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Given all that, 7/4 is free money, right?
Wrong. Betting on Mayo in league games in Dublin has been a fast track to the poor house for fully half a century. You have to go all the way back to the league semi-final of 1971 – 1971! – to find the last time Mayo won a league game in Dublin. In the 50 years since, there have been 13 games in either Croke Park or Parnell Park, of which Dublin have won 12. Mayo’s best result in all that time was the 3-14 to 2-17 draw in 2014.
In case you get the impression that this is somehow just the normal run of things, it’s anything but. Mayo’s league record in Dublin is a frankly weird anomaly when set in the context of the rest of the country. It would be one thing if the mighty Dubs have reigned supreme on home soil over those 50 campaigns, fending off all-comers and feasting on anyone who dared wander past the city walls. But that hasn’t been the way of it at all.
Truth of it
In fact, Dublin have lost in either Croke Park or Parnell Park to 19 different counties since Mayo last won a league game in the city. We’re not just talking about the traditional powers, either. There have been victories for Tipperary (1971), Clare (1974), Wexford (1985), Longford (also ’85) and Louth (1997), among others.
The truth of it is that most teams have, at some stage along the passage of 50 league seasons, caught the Dubs on a down day at home. Mayo’s company among the ones who haven’t comprises most of the teams you think it would – Antrim, Fermanagh, Wicklow, Waterford, Limerick, Westmeath, Cavan and Leitrim.
But those teams have only had 16 league games in Dublin between them in all that time (Carlow, Kilkenny, London and Sligo haven’t played Dublin in the league at all in that timespan). Mayo have had 13 chances to come up and get a win of their own. And they have somehow contrived not to have done so.
Their record on the home front has not been much better, in all truth. It hasn’t overly mattered where the games have taken place – the Dubs have generally had their way with Mayo regardless. Across those 50 years, Mayo have won a grand total of four games against Dublin in Castlebar. By contrast, Dublin have won four games in Castlebar since 2015 alone.
Of course, it’s the past decade-and-a-half of league meetings that has really put clear water between the two counties. Half of Dublin’s victories in the fixture over the past 50 years have come since 2010. The games haven’t been overly close, either – Dublin’s average margin of victory in the time is a shade over six points.
The big difference between the teams in modern times has been goals. Dublin have scored a hatful of them, Mayo have barely managed to fill a thimble. In the nine games going back to Mayo’s last win in 2012, Dublin have racked up 14 goals to Mayo’s two. Mayo haven’t scored a league goal against Dublin since 2014.
It all adds up to one of the weirdest quirks in Gaelic football. Mayo, the team who have done most to give Dublin’s best ever team their fill of it in championship, the crowd who finally ended the longest unbeaten streak in the history of the All-Ireland, reduced to little more than a box-ticking exercise in the league.
It has to change sometime. Doesn’t it?