THE hype is less frenetic, but the undercurrents no less vibrant. That buffeted old dream lives on, suspended somewhere between fact and fancy.
Doubt has been sewn in Dublin heads, their systems challenged, their invincibility questioned. But they are still standing, still teasing us, daring Mayo to reproduce the power that on two occasions almost toppled them.
Lest we forget, Mayo’s was also an exciting recovery in the semi-final between the same two last season. Seven points had divided them when Mayo discovered new routes to goal in the closing minutes that earned them a deserved draw.
It sparked off a rash of theories and predictions on how Mayo would win the replay and end their All-Ireland agony. Although they lost no stature, Mayo did not win the replay, did not have the resources to sustain the vitality of their performance in the drawn game, and ran out of steam in the final five minutes.
In the manner of its achievement, this was perhaps a more dramatic draw. The power and composure, the timing of their re-possession of the game, and that equalising point by Cillian in the seventh minute of injury time revealed new values about Mayo’s character.
Dublin seemed drained leaving the pitch, mortified no doubt at their failure to conquer the spirit of opponents who had gifted them goals that had eluded their own star forwards and spared their humiliation.
They will blame the conditions rather than Mayo’s resourcefulness for being off-colour. The slippery ground, the soapy ball is seen as the real opponent that spoiled their rapid transitions and searing charges.
They’ll attribute none of their disappointment to Mayo’s self-assurance or better organisation. And they will vow to avenge that performance with renewed zeal from the stars that failed to shine.
Whether their unparalleled unbeaten run of 28 games is about to continue depends on whether Mayo can reproduce the energy and the resilience to finally snuff out the challenge of the All-Ireland champions.
Power and endurance will be the final arbiters. In almost every section of the field, Dublin for once felt the pressure of Mayo’s muscle. To sustain their application for 70 minutes in that Croke Park cauldron is something only those who have gone through it realise what it takes.
To recreate similar zeal, summon similar energy and ardour will have them digging further into their character, into the depths of their souls.
But a slackening of that grip is what Dublin hope to achieve on Saturday, to somehow break Mayo’s stranglehold on their stars and free the likes of Connolly and McManamon to resume their customary torment of defences.
Even without their influence, Dublin did pierce that tight Mayo defence on a couple of occasions with a plot devised surely on the training ground.
In slipping unnoticed behind the defence after delivering to a colleague on two occasions in the first half, Brian Fenton came closest to destabilising Mayo’s mental security. Whose responsibility it was to pick up the Dublin midfielder we’re not sure. That gap was eventually sealed off, but Dublin are likely to have plotted some similar manoeuvre for the replay.
At times it was hard to know who was accompanying Seamus O’Shea in the middle of the field. Nor did Dublin get a handle on it either.
Tom Parsons took up the position, but Donal Vaughan’s focused sweeps through the centre gave them something to really think about ... that guile and tactics perhaps were not exclusive to one side.
More than once, mere centimetres denied Vaughan the vital breakthrough for goals.
Time to tame the untameable at long last
TAKE a look at the footage and you can only marvel at the immensity of Seamie O’Shea’s achievements. Some careless passing may have undermined the ranking of his performance, but without this machine in the middle of the field, Mayo’s would be a much less smooth operation.
Fenton may have been the remaining option for the kick-outs of Stephen Cluxton when other avenues were closed off, but O’Shea, Tom Parsons, and Vaughan did curtail the danger that often emanates from Dublin’s midfield, especially when Michael Darragh MacAuley is on song.
No serious injury appears to hinder Stephen Rochford’s team plans for the replay.
Alan Dillon picked up a foot injury. Hopefully, he will be fully fit to resume. In his few minutes of playtime, the Ballintubber man’s equalising point left no one in doubt about his importance.
So now they return to the scene of their latest heroics to excite the hopes and fears of the county once more, to tame the untameable. To try to finish the job!
Nothing has changed. Same stage, same characters, same ambition demanding even greater endeavour and further improvement. In dryer conditions, Mayo might find it more difficult to dispossess their opponents.
But nothing more could be asked of Paddy Durcan than to repeat his eclipse of Kevin McManamon, or of Lee Keegan in his dominance over Diarmuid Connolly. Or indeed of the irrelevant role into which Brendan Harrison pushed Bernard Brogan!
All these Dubs are hurting right now, and determined to regain the spotlight. And greater vigilance, greater determination will be asked of the three Mayo defenders ... of the team in its entirety.
They will not want for assistance from Keith Higgins, who spares no bone in his body in closing gaps and spreading panic when he counter attacks. Colm Boyle’s toughness will not be lost on them nor will Donal Vaughan’s ability to be everywhere at the same time. Behind them David Clarke, too, has shown how difficult a ’keeper he is to beat.
Back there, too, batting off every Dublin intrusion will be Kevin McLoughlin and Seamus O’Shea, customarily disruptive, determined, indefatigable.
But there is need for greater support for the man in possession as Mayo move forward. That flaw was exposed in the first half when too much was asked of Andy Moran, when alone between two defenders high ball was delivered to him too quickly and without support.
Ignored sometimes is the tenacity of Jason Doherty. All the time rooting and scrapping, his donkey work is sometimes rewarded with fine goals. As Dublin concentrate on quelling the fires of Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran, Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor, the Burrishoole man might just steal in for a vital score.
Because so much is asked of him, Aidan O’Shea’s numerous achievements, his assists, his hard work seem sometimes to fall short of his capabilities. Like Cillian, he’ll be a marked man once more with little mercy shown by the referee.
But he is a vital cog in that forward line, a kind of rallying force that often lifts the performance of the team. More than ever his qualities are essential to the outcome on Saturday.
So the stage is theirs again to give expression to their ambition, to rekindle the passion that more than once has almost lugged them over the line. Advice is superfluous.
The prize is inestimable.