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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 22 January, 2019

Dubs chase immortality, the McQuillian factor and is 10 a magic Mayo number?

The counties will battle it out for the Sam Maguire Cup at Croke Park.

IT’S DUBLIN AND Mayo again for All-Ireland senior football glory – and a nation holds its breath.

These two have churned out some classic championship clashes in recent years – and the scene is set for another titanic battle at GAA HQ.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

So, will it be Cillian O’Connor or Stephen Cluxton accepting Sam Maguire on the steps of the Hogan Stand when the dust settles on the 2017 decider?

Here, we take a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the game….

1. Can Mayo finally do it?

Dan Hoban from Newport Co. Mayo Dan Hoban from Mayo outside Croke Park before last year's All-Ireland final - with a copy of the matchday programme and the 1951 version. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It’s a question we ask almost every year and here they are again.

Mayo, so often the bridesmaids, are just 70 minutes away from the Holy Grail.

The county hasn’t tasted an All-Ireland senior win since 1951 but they seem to be building up a lovely head of steam at the business end of the season.

Last year, they lost to Galway in Connacht but bounced back to contest an All-Ireland final and replay against Dublin.

In the 2017 Connacht championship, Galway had Mayo’s measure again but Stephen Rochford’s men regrouped and have made it back to the third Sunday in September.

2. 10 the magic number for Mayo?

Captain Brian Dooher lifts The Sam Maguire trophy Tyrone played ten games en route to All-Ireland glory in 2005. Source: ©INPHO

Should Mayo finish their campaign with victory over Dublin, and on the day, they’ll have played ten games to win the All-Ireland senior football title.

That run would mirror Tyrone’s marathon surge to glory in 2005.

Back then, the Red Hands beat Down in Ulster before coming through a semi-final replay with Cavan.

Armagh beat them in a provincial final replay but Tyrone charged through the back door to Sam with victories over Monaghan, Dublin (replay), Armagh and Kerry.

In this campaign, Mayo beat Sligo before falling to Galway in Connacht.

A memorable qualifier run saw them account for Derry after extra-time, Clare, Cork after extra-time, Roscommon (replay), and Kerry (replay). It’s been some journey.

3. Gavin’s Dubs chase immortality

Tommy Doyle lifts Sam Maguire 1986 Tommy Doyle lifts Sam for Kerry in 1986. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Back-to-back is difficult enough to achieve in the modern era but three-in-a-row is something else entirely.

But that’s the carrot for Dublin as they prepare for a second successive final showdown with Mayo – and their third in five seasons.

No team has achieved a successive treble since the Kerry teams of 1984-1986 – and not even the great Dublin teams of the 1970s could manage it, although three in four was won between 1974 and 1977.

Dublin have done three-in-a-row three times in their history – the last hat-trick achieved from 1921-1923.

And while comparisons have been drawn between the Sky Blues of the ’70s and the current crop, victory for Gavin’s men would mark them out as the finest team ever to emerge from the capital, and an outfit to rival any that the game has ever produced.

4. Another Connolly-Keegan tête-à-tête in store?

That’s a question that will only be answered come throw-in, when the respective starting 15s line up for battle.

We’ve seen both managers name dummy teams in the past and All-Ireland final day may be no different.

One of the big question on the lips of Dublin fans is whether or not Diarmuid Connolly will start.

The St Vincent’s superstar was eligible again after a 12-week ban for the semi-final victory over Tyrone – but Jim Gavin held him in reserve until the 70th minute.

That was clever management from Gavin, who will have had Connolly bursting a gut in training over the last three weeks.

He may well have done enough to earn a start and if he does line out, will we see the renewal of a classic modern-day rivalry with his old nemesis, Lee Keegan?

When the duo last clashed in championship football, in the 2016 All-Ireland final replay, Keegan was black-carded for dragging the Dublin man to the ground.

5. Strength in depth

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dublin’s bench proved critical in last year’s All-Ireland final replay.

Bernard Brogan came on to score a point, while Michael Darragh MacAuley added real energy around the middle third down the home straight.

But the stand-out impact was from Cormac Costello, son of county board CEO John, who scored three points from play after he was introduced with 14 minutes of normal time left.

Dublin have a glittering array of stars in their starting line-up – and more to call upon when needed in an extremely powerful squad.

They’ve used 29 different players in championship 2017 (Costello hasn’t featured because of injury) but Mayo, in contrast, are more reliant on a core group of players.

But that’s not to suggest that Mayo don’t have game changers of their own.

Conor Loftus has sparkled in cameo roles in this summer’s campaign, most notably against Derry in a nervy qualifier and Kerry in the semi-final replay, while Paddy Durcan had to be content with a substitute’s role in both games with Kerry.

His late point sent the drawn game to replay – but he was sent off for a second bookable offence in the rematch.

6. Ref role

Andy Moran and Stephen Cluxton with referee Joe McQuillan Referee Joe McQuillan with 2013 All-Ireland final captains Andy Moran and Stephen Cluxton. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

All-Ireland final referee Joe McQuillan is well known to Dublin and Mayo fans.

He took charge of the 2013 All-Ireland final between the counties – and was also the man in the middle for a stormy drawn semi-final in 2015.

McQuillan angered Mayo three years ago when Cillian O’Connor tapped a close-range free over the bar, when a goal would have won it for the Westerners.

O’Connor insisted that he was told by McQuillan that more time would be added on – but the Cavan man blew for full-time soon after.

Two years ago, McQuillan sent off Diarmuid Connolly for an off-the-ball clash with Lee Keegan but he also awarded Dublin a controversial first-half penalty, before later waving away appeals from Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea.

This contest promises to be hot and heavy and while this is McQuillan’s third experience of Gaelic Football’s biggest day, he’s not a universally popular choice.

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