Noel Connelly is back in the middle of another decade, guiding Mayo along an All-Ireland pathway. Joint-manager with Pat Holmes – the same combination led the county to an under-21 All-Ireland in 2006 – he captained Mayo to successive senior finals in 1996 and '97.
On Sunday he and Holmes bring the county to Croke Park hoping to become the third Mayo management team in 10 years to engineer the defeat of Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final.
In his first season in charge, Connelly has come across Dublin just once, a heavy League defeat in March, which he feels is short of relevance in respect of what’s coming.
“We didn’t legislate for what happened that night in the league. We had got two points in Derry and again it’s a six-day turnaround. We didn’t train particularly hard in the league given that they boys had been on the road for four very difficult years.
“Now, Dublin came to Castlebar that night really wanting and needing two points and they came with a huge intensity and we just weren’t up for it on the night and they blew us away.”
The team’s experience as a collective against Dublin extends beyond that uncomfortable evening.
The county is about to contest a fifth successive All-Ireland semi-final and many of the players have been involved in all five, which have yielded two defeats and two finals but as yet no Sam Maguire.
Although many of them played in the defeat of Dublin three years ago they were also involved in a heartbreaking one-point defeat by Jim Gavin’s team in the final a year later. Connelly knows that the challenge is demanding, as Dublin have not remained a stationary target.
“We’ll be focusing on the way Dublin have changed their style of play and gone more defensive in the last year. They have learned their lesson from Donegal last year. So really you have to focus on this year’s championship and the way they are playing in that. And their league form. We’re under no illusions about the task that lies ahead but we would hope that we would be ready for that and put in a good performance.”
One element of the opposition’s game that has remained constant is the importance of goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs. In the final two years ago, these restarts played a significant role in Dublin’s victory, moving the receivers around cleverly so as to avoid the fielding ability of the O’Shea brothers at centrefield.
“Any team that plays Dublin has to work on his kick-outs,” Connelly says of Cluxton.
“He’s the master of it; most of their attacks stem from the quick kick-out. He’s the art of getting the kick-out off after three or four seconds. The ball is at the post and he has it back in play very quickly.
“We have to adapt to that, try and close down the space, close down the kick-outs but it’s not easy because he’s the expert at it.”