Unfinished business beckons Mayo against Dublin

Connacht champions keep bouncing back in their quest for elusive All-Ireland title

Now that the sociology phase of the championship is over – ‘My poor man, how did your circumstances (your football!) become so poor? Something should be done to address this. You plainly need new structures’ – the conclusion to this football All-Ireland reminds us that these are actually most competitive times.

The last weekend in August begins with three counties left in play and plausible cases to be made for any of them. Sunday's second semi-final reunites Dublin and Mayo for a third championship match in four years and with a score between them, either way, in the previous two, Croke Park is unsurprisingly a sell-out.

Nor is it one of those, ‘there’s a few boxes of them somewhere’ sell-outs. There appears genuinely to be nothing left. According to the Croke Park ticket office, this has been an easy sell even by the standards of Dublin in All-Ireland semi-finals.

A spokesperson couldn’t remember a match before the final prompting the ‘Sold Out’ signs to go up so quickly. Public sales had to be shut down two weeks ago, as the demand from the counties soared.


Stifling hegemony

It’s easy to see why. Twelve months ago Dublin occupied a most sinister position in the world of football. Until Donegal decided to show up and rearrange the narrative in last year’s semi-finals, Jim Gavin’s team were about to destroy the game by winning five or maybe six All-Irelands in a row. No-one would compete and the game would suffocate under this stifling hegemony.

Eventually Kerry came to the rescue and bravely ferried a 37th All-Ireland back to the south, where it could be curated at a safe distance from the capital.

Now Dublin are back, not quite the feared force of 2014 but still presumably livid about how they got turned over by Donegal’s system.

That sense of frustration has yet to find a suitable outlet, as the Leinster champions have so far not faced opposition that wasn’t either bound for Division Three next season or in it this year.

Having played it in too cavalier a fashion last year, Mayo return to the big stage, having for the past four years suffered disappointment, dusted themselves down and gone again the following season.

Never mind that the Sam Maguire hasn't toured the county since 1951 – the current team have shipped enough agonising setbacks to make Sisyphus look faint-hearted and irresolute.

Under new joint-management, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly – both survivors of previous doomed quests – they look refreshed and renewed and come into this match with the jaunty air of a man who has found out what's been making that noise in his engine. The retooled component is Aidan O'Shea, moved from centrefield to full forward from where he has facilitated a smooth journey back to Jones's Road.

Wrecking ball

It’s seven years this week since he first barrelled into Croke Park for an All-Ireland semi-final and faced a Kerry team, featuring a handful of those who beat Tyrone in last week’s senior semi-final. O’Shea(below) is the only one of his minor contemporaries to start this weekend but his wrecking ball presence has created an enhanced goal threat.

Mayo have been undeniably impressive and their calm demolition of last year’s All-Ireland finalists Donegal emphasised their intentions.

They have a better record at this stage of the championship over the past 20 years, having won six of their 10 appearances. Dublin have managed just two from seven – the difference being that both of those have been turned into titles whereas Mayo are still waiting. Their problem has been that All-Irelands aren’t decided in August and September has generally been a cruel month.

By now, unless they’re playing your own county, Mayo have become the team everyone wants to see win.

Dublin, having recovered from the setback of seeing their prospects of world domination spoiled as spectacularly as a Bond villain’s, none the less come into the weekend chasing a second All-Ireland in three years to go with three successive national leagues and Leinster titles.

They have been fitful at times in the current campaign, as if seeking a challenge that can set the pulses racing and arouse the fear that their season might actually be terminated. Be careful what you wish for. On Friday Dublin announced an unchanged team.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times