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EXCLUSIVE Mayo caught between a rock and a hard place over decision whether to play a sweeper or to attack Dublin

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Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo might be used in a sweeper's role

Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo might be used in a sweeper's role

Tommy Conroy has been in outstanding form for Mayo

Tommy Conroy has been in outstanding form for Mayo

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Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo might be used in a sweeper's role

Mayo must resist the sweeper idea

THIS is a strange All-Ireland Final in more ways than the obvious. For both Dublin and Mayo are coming in untested in Championship football by those teams we thought would stand in their path to the final.

Neither Dublin nor Mayo beat Kerry. They didn't beat Donegal, Tyrone or Monaghan either. Mayo's scrambled Connacht Final win over a Galway team that was flying before lockdown came along is about the one decent form line that can be carried into the big game next Saturday night.

In 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and again in last year's semi-final, Mayo got under the skin of this great Dublin team.

Nobody, not even Kerry, has come so close to ending Dublin's great run.

But this is not the same Mayo team of those years I quoted. In the likes of Oisín Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Ryan O'Donoghue and Tommy Conroy, they have a new team with new players bringing great energy to the cause.

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Tommy Conroy has been in outstanding form for Mayo

Tommy Conroy has been in outstanding form for Mayo

Tommy Conroy has been in outstanding form for Mayo

Yet mind you, Dublin can say the same with Robbie McDaid, Seán Bugler and Paddy Small all playing so well for the Sky Blues that Philly McMahon, Brian Howard, Kevin McManamon and Paul Mannion cannot get into Dessie Farrell's starting XV.

Young blood is great, it is fearless. But in the days before the game, the senior men - Aidan O'Shea, Lee Keegan, Stephen Cluxton and James McCarthy - need to pull these lads aside and tell them that you cannot win the All-Ireland Final until the day of the match, but you can lose it in the days leading up to it.

I haven't been down in Ballina or Castlebar in the last few days, so I don't know what the build-up is like. But surely it has to be a little less frantic than in previous years?

There's no ticket hunting, there's no frenzied debates at the bar in pubs, there's no homecoming to plan. All that has to help James Horan's job of keeping his lads' eyes on the prize.

Mayo can win the game. They bring a frenzy to the business of a football match, they keep running, they keep moving and they are willing to match themselves against this great Dubs' team, man for man.

Which brings me to the huge tactical call in advance of the match. Will Horan use a sweeper, probably Kevin McLoughlin from wing-forward?

Does he ignore the evidence of his eyes in the first 20 minutes of the semi-final when Tipperary scored 1-4, but could have notched 3-7?

Dare he allow the Dublin forwards the space that the Tipp lads found?

But if he plays a sweeper, it means that every time Cluxton gets the ball into his hands - from play, for a kick-out or for a free - the Dublin goalkeeper now has a free man to find with the ball. And so you are inviting Dublin to come on to you.

I'm convinced that the team that one day beats this brilliant Dublin team, and it will happen, will be one that runs up a serious score against it.

Dublin's attacking patterns are now so ingrained in the team that you know they are always going to run up a big total.

So to beat them, as I keep arguing, you need to find a way to get a minimum score of something near 2-16 yourself.

Now before you point out that Mayo scored 5-20 in the semi-final, I'd offer the opinion that Dublin's backs are a bit better than Tipperary's.

Indeed Dublin's defence has astonished me this year - it is something that Dessie Farrell has clearly brought to the team.

Despite having so many All-Ireland medals, these lads are still hunting in packs, not fouling, getting in a hand, being physical in the way the rules allow and putting in the hard yards.

I honestly thought that the loss of flying wing-back Jack McCaffrey would be a huge problem for Dublin this year.

But Robbie McDaid has come in and it has almost been a seamless transition. In fact, Robbie must be right there in the hunt for an All-Star this year.

I suspect Dessie will stick with the starting team that began against Cavan.

The only change I could foresee is Brian Howard coming in for either Eoin Murchan or Sean Bugler.

With Howard, Brian Fenton and James McCarthy, Dublin would have three top players for the long kick-outs and I suspect Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke will be forced to kick long a lot.

Dublin's forwards will graft so that he does not get too many easy ones.

Can Mayo win? Yes they can, if they bring their manic intensity to it for 70 minutes. They did it for 35 last year - and we know what happened then!


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