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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
©INPHO/Donall Farmer Dublin's Michael Dara MacAuley and Mayo's Seamus O'Shea.
# Match Guide
Dublin v Mayo — All-Ireland SFC semi-final match guide
The second of this year’s All-Ireland senior football semi-finals takes place on Sunday with Leinster champions Dublin squaring off against Connacht kings Mayo.

Sunday, Dublin v Mayo, Croke Park, 4.00 (Ref: Joe McQuillan, Cavan)

Latest from the medics and management… There’s no Philly McMahon this time around with Cian O’Sullivan moving to corner-back and Ger Brennan to centre-back, while Diarmuid Connolly takes the place of Eoghan O’Gara and goes to full-forward, meaning Michael Darragh McAuley is set to line up at centre-forward.

But both of those moves are mere footnotes beside the billboard news that Alan Brogan is starting. However, his fitness after that groin injury is as questionable as it is important. If he’s up to the pace, for the first time all summer Pat Gilroy seems to have his best team on the pitch and expect MacAuley to move back into a three-man midfield, and expect Alan Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly to rotate between a two-man full-forward line and a three-man half-forward line.

After that’ll it’ll be the usual with midfield dropping deep when out of possession and they’ll look to create turnovers in the half-back line and break quickly. Rory O’Carroll won’t be dealing with so much a big man as a marauding man with Enda Varley expected to pull him around and create space close to goal for his corner-forwards and crucially his half-forwards. That last aspect means Dublin’s half-back line will need to track as well as block if they aren’t to be overrun in the same way Down were in the last eight.

Dublin: Stephen Cluxton (Parnells); Michael Fitzsimons (Cuala), Rory O’Carroll (Kilmacud Crokes), Cian O’Sullivan (Kilmacud Crokes); James McCarthy (Ballymun Kickhams), Ger Brennan (St Vincent’s), Kevin Nolan (Kilmacud Crokes); Eamon Fennell (St Vincent’s), Denis Bastick (Templeogue Synge Street); Paul Flynn (Fingallians), Michael Darragh MacAuley (Ballyboden St Enda’s), Bryan Cullen (Skerries Harps); Alan Brogan (St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh), Diarmuid Connolly (St Vincent’s), Bernard Brogan (St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh).

As expected, Mayo haven’t torn up the teamsheet and built the side back up because of the injury to Andy Moran. Instead it’s just a straight swap with Enda Varley, and not Alan Freeman, coming in at full-forward.

But there are no bigger boots to fill because, as 2006 captain David Heaney put it during the week, “Andy Moran is more like the conductor of an orchestra up front. He tells who to run, when to run and where to run”. In short, he’s irreplaceable and a team that has improved so much at the back and looks so strong in the centre now looks more paperweight than lightweight up front.

Given the form of Lee Keegan, Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey and Keith Higgins in defence, they’ll be expected to go man-to-man from the off but the feeling is that when Dublin start to rotate, it’s best they stand their ground rather than get dragged into unfamiliar territory. That’ll mean each of that back division will have to pick up an array of the country’s best forwards across the afternoon although Higgins will hope to make them work by getting up and down the field tirelessly, as he does game-in, game-out.

Mayo: David Clarke (Ballina Stephenites); Kevin Keane (Westport), Ger Cafferkey (Ballina Stephenites), Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis); Lee Keegan (Westport), Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe), Colm Boyle (Davitts); Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels), Aidan O’Shea (Breaffy); Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore), Cillian O’Connor (Ballintubber), Alan Dillon (Ballintubber); Michael Conroy (Davitts), Enda Varley (Garrymore), Jason Doherty (Burrishoole).

Checking the odds… You’ll see below who we expect to win but even at that, Dublin at 1-2 seems way too short and they are numbers built on hype and past performances as opposed to reality and present performances. Meanwhile Mayo at 9-4 looks generous given the handicap is only at a couple of points.

Elsewhere, the Connacht champions have conceded just two goals this summer on the back of a miserly two goals in their seven group games in the league. But if their form says they may not concede, Andy Moran’s absence says they may not get one either and no goalscorer is 5-1.

As for those who think they’ll have to do it all again, the draw is available at 8-1.

Clues from the form guide… If it’s based on form then Mayo will be back in an All Ireland final for the first time since 2006. The opposition may have been limited this summer but they blitzed Leitrim, showed they can dig deep against Sligo, and looked a well-rounded team against Down with Barry Moran continuing his remarkable season, Aidan O’Shea getting back up the speed, while the forward support play cut the Ulster side to shreds.

There was the league too, and not just getting to a final and not just beating Armagh and Kerry along the way, but humiliating Dublin by 0-20 to 0-8 back in March in Castlebar. Granted, from the starting teams that night, 11 Mayo men return but just nine Dublin players are back including both of the Brogan brothers.

As for Dublin, your understanding of form is the cornerstone of what you believe they can achieve today and possibly in the final. If you reckon a team can simply switch it on because they are finally excited by the big stage and the opposition, then we could get a throwback to the 2011 version and they will again be contenders. But, whereas a year ago there were little shoots in the league that promised there was the potential of a statement win just like that against Tyrone in the quarter-final, that hasn’t been there this time around.

Exclude Louth in the Leinster opener, and not once has this team performed in league or championship since winning the All Ireland. It’s a big ask for them to just rediscover themselves after such a length and after so much mediocrity, when comparing them against the high standards they have set for themselves.

The game breakers are… On the Mayo side, firstly their ability to deal with the sound and the fury. What was noteworthy in 2006 was an arrogance from the off when they went down the Hill 16 end for the warm-up in a move that suggested they had no fear of what was coming. That was proven true across that game as not only did they silence the Dublin crowd early that day, but they had no problem converting chances either in a fightback. Mayo must make sure that’s the case again today, and with a forward line that isn’t likely to score much, they need to make sure their shot selection is good, their execution excellent and Cillian O’Connor needs to be steely over frees.

But no matter whether the ball goes over or wide, their reaction is the second key as they cannot allow Stephen Cluxton time or space for quick kickouts. That’s what they did so well in the league meeting when pushing up and while it leaves their back line a little more exposed, they have to trust those players and cut out the supply from the off.

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As regards Dublin, Alan Brogan and his fitness is the game breaker here. Without him, no matter the quality of those around him, they haven’t performed and have looked lost without their leader pulling the strings. But he can’t shoulder all that weight, even as footballer of the year, and Bernard Brogan needs to rediscover his finishing touch, Diarmuid Connolly needs to remain cool-headed, Paul Flynn needs to keep being the player he has been for two seasons now when kicking clutch scores from distance and dragging massed defences out of position, while Bryan Cullen really needs to find some form as he’s too often been a passenger this time around.

Of course midfield will also be huge, especially if Mayo can force Cluxton to kick the ball long and high into crowded space. That has to happen for Mayo to win as does domination of that area. They may only have two midfielders to Dublin’s three on the park but Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran have so much quality, they should still get the better despite the numbers not being stacked in their favour.

Gazing into the crystal ball… At their best, Dublin are by a distance the better team but it depends what gear they finally click into. They’ll have seen from the league final that they can bully the opposition and if their back division can create enough intensity, stop the runner coming off the shoulder at pace, turn over ball and move it quickly, that’ll create a problem.

James Horan has told his players all year that defenders are not to be left alone but if Dublin counter well, there’s nothing they can do about it. And as much as their defensive players have improved and as much as Mayo are on the right path, it may be a year too soon for them to hold the All Ireland champions.

Dublin have a far greater goal threat, a far greater point threat and as long as their defence keeps the work rate up and doesn’t lazily foul like it did against Laois, they should be just about okay. Midfield is the only area that might struggle but Mayo will need to win more than just that sector and it’s hard to see that happening unless Dublin are as bad as they have been all year.

As for the bigger picture, if Pat Gilroy’s side are to prevail, they can’t merely limp through as this has to be a means to an end and you don’t want to be struggling for form when you run into Donegal.

Verdict… Dublin by four

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