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bouncing back Mayo coming to the end of mourning and are out to target Dublin Grim Reaper

"Mayo fans don't need reminding that Dublin have been the county's Grim Reaper for longer than they care to remember"

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Mick Fitzsimons (right) is still to return from injury

Mick Fitzsimons (right) is still to return from injury

Mick Fitzsimons (right) is still to return from injury

MUCH like the country itself, Mayo is coming to the end of a period of mourning.

In the case of Ireland, it was caused by Covid-19.

For Mayo GAA fans, it was after yet another All-Ireland final defeat.

The team itself is doing what they do best, getting on with the job without being burdened by the baggage of the past. Slowly, but surely, everybody has a spring back in their step.

But grief has a way of sneaking up on you just when things seems to be going well.

Mayo fans don't need reminding that Dublin have been the county's Grim Reaper for longer than they care to remember.

And they're back to test Mayo's mettle next Saturday night in Croke Park.

Of course, memories of that epic extra-time semi-final win last year still bring joy to Mayo fans, regardless of how painful the subsequent loss to Tyrone was.

This is Mayo's opportunity to maintain a degree of ­supremacy over Dublin.

Another loss will keep the Dubs rooted to the bottom of Division 1 and prolong their worst start to a season in decades.

Nobody can deny that Dublin are in transition, but they remain a force to be reckoned with. Anybody tempted to write them off could be eating a lot of humble pie before the end of July.

I was impressed by the way Mayo ground out two results (a draw against Donegal and a win over Monaghan) to remain unbeaten in a season when they have no games in Hastings MacHale Park.

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The decision of Oisín ­Mullin not to take up the offer to play in Australia gave the fans and James Horan a much-needed boost after a winter of discontent, rumours, and pub talk.

This feel-good factor was diminished when Tommy Conroy (inset below) was ruled out for the rest of the season after damaging his cruciate ligament in the Sigerson Cup.

He was just on the brink of putting himself up there as one of the top forwards in the country.

Since his debut in 2019, Tommy had progressively improved and developed all aspects of his game. He announced himself on the national stage during Mayo's extra-time defeat of Dublin.

Tommy brought something electrifying to the Mayo forward line. But that turn of pace and exuberant flair is quenched for now.

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The Mayo clash will have an edge for sure

The Mayo clash will have an edge for sure

The Mayo clash will have an edge for sure

It's a case of moving on for Mayo and of recovery for Conroy. There is more positive news on the horizon with the imminent return of Cillian O'Connor.

Furthermore, the scoring contribution of Jason Doherty in the last two weeks reminded us of what we have missed from him since his career was disrupted by a cruciate ligament injury.

The Mayo club championship is back to being as competitive as ever and has become the 'factory floor' for would-be county footballers.

The likes of Ballina's young half-back Sam Callinan have joined the panel. While Aiden Orme from current county champions Knockmore is also progressing well, though still a relative novice.

The standout club player in the Mayo club championship was Ryan O'Donoghue and he has delivered so far in the league, contributing 1-10 of Mayo's 2-21 total.

Rob Hennelly has been Mayo's top performer so far this season.

He has made six one-on-one saves in the two games while also kicking the equalising point from a difficult free against Donegal.

The two-week break has given Dessie Farrell and his squad an opportunity to regroup. This will stand to the Dubs when questions are being asked of them.

There has always been a bit of bite to these encounters over the last decade.

It is hard to believe that unless James McCarthy and Michael Fitzsimons return, Ciaran Kilkenny will be the only survivor on the team that featured in the 2012 semi-final.

Lee Keegan, Aidan O'Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty and Cillian O'Connor, who all started for Mayo that day, are still involved while Hennelly left the panel earlier that year but returned in 2013.

That was the game to kick-start the decade-long rivalry between the counties.

Still, one cannot hide from the reality that there is a lot more at stake than two league points for both teams on Saturday night.

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