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horan's heroes Mayo will not surrender to futility as they prepare for one of the great challenges in all of sport


Mayo manager James Horan and captain Aidan O'Shea will be plotting Dublin's downfall

Mayo manager James Horan and captain Aidan O'Shea will be plotting Dublin's downfall


Mayo manager James Horan and captain Aidan O'Shea will be plotting Dublin's downfall

Ernst Jünger had most likely never heard of Mayo nor Gaelic football when, exactly 100 years ago, he drafted perhaps the most savage and lyrically striking account of war ever committed to print.

Yet the stark, three-word title of the German World War One veteran's visceral recollection of life in the trenches feels like a perfect fit when considering what James Horan's side will encounter when they gallop over Croke Park's brow and into the eye of Dublin's murderous efficiency.

Storm of Steel.

If Mayo are to locate unmatchable glory, if they are to make matchwood of so many dire predictions, if they are to finally touch fantasy, it will require the greatest act of defiance the GAA's old house of worship has ever known.

They are required to defy gravity and logic and the apparently immutable laws of nature.

Only the kind of wild and admirable contrariness that is their calling card will convince Mayo they can bend the rules of physics.

Their most potent asset is that they stride onto a rectangle of grass that Dublin – pitiless, incomparable, insatiable, magnificent Dublin –have transformed into a killing field, armed with the absolute conviction that they will win.

Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor and Patrick Durcan will not doubt for even a nanosecond that they can take down Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Dean Rock.

It doesn’t matter that such a mindset might seem illogical, the same kind of unhinged optimism that persuades a lion-tamer certain he will emerge unscathed from sticking his head between the jaws of a hungry jungle cat.


Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin battles with Mayo talisman Cillian O'Connor

Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin battles with Mayo talisman Cillian O'Connor


Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin battles with Mayo talisman Cillian O'Connor

The very fact they wear a cape of defiance rather than the cloak of inferiority that is the uniform of choice for so many of Dublin’s trembling opponents offers Mayo an initial shield against the storm of steel enjoyed by few of their peers.

Is it enough to counter the forest of statistics insisting those green and red ambitions are bound once more for the boneyard?

Almost certainly not.

Mayo have not beaten Dublin in 16 attempts spanning more than eight years.

The odds-makers think it is twice as likely that Dublin will win by more than 10 points than lose by one.

Meath, like Mayo, relegated from Division One in late autumn, were pulverised by Dessie Farrell's Sky Blue junkyard car crusher in the Leinster final. Long before the end of a 21-point slaughter, the more squeamish among the TV audience felt obliged to avert their eyes.

Horan understands that he faces an opponent propelled by the kind of ambition that knows no bounds, that it is Dublin’s way to keep throwing dizzying punches long after their concussed opponent has been counted out.

He knows too that Fenton, Kilkenny, Rock, Stephen Cluxton, James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan all long ago secured residency in football’s hall of fame.

Somehow, still, Horan will not permit himself to surrender to futility as he prepares for one of the great challenges in all of sport.

His county's back catalogue in this match-up is one vaccine against despair.

In 2016 and 2017, the teams contested three All-Ireland finals in 12 months. One of those convulsive contests finished in a draw, the other two were settled by a point. At the end of nearly four hours of superior, compelling football, the aggregate score was 4-41 (53) to 2-45 (51) in Dublin’s favour.

On one level, the strength of Mayo’s conviction, that unbreakable belief that can plant their standard on football's highest peak, can seem like a kind of madness.

It is, after all, 69 years since they were champions of Ireland. Some 13 counties – among them Louth, Offaly and Derry – have lifted Sam since 1951.

If national silverware was the only measure, then Mayo could be accused of marching with a strut that is wildly out of proportion to their achievements.

But then, there is more than a single yardstick to calculate greatness.

Competitive courage, a superhuman defiance, a Terminator-like capacity, even when ruinously disabled, to reform and re-gather and return the following year to battle again…these are the qualities that underpin Mayo.

And have earned them the affection of so many neutrals.

Even more than Kerry, though the latter bagged the only All-Ireland not won by Dublin since 2013, they have found a way to go toe-to-toe time and again with the greatest force the game has ever known.

Beyond that history of insolence, the bedrock on which to construct any kind of solid argument the underdogs can bark loudest on Saturday is non-existent.

Examine the relative strengths of both teams and this can be viewed as a contest between an electric chair and a doomed death row convict.

Dublin's third quarter eruption of brilliance in last year's semi-final, a detonation of shock and awe pyrotechnics that made a mushroom cloud of Mayo hopes, seemed to radically reset the parameters of their decade-long rivalry.

Any war-gaming of likely outcomes based on that game would have Mayo risking not only defeat but destruction.

Dublin, it is true, will not face Mayo's broken class of 2019.

Horan has re-seeded, adding youth, pace and forward potency. Eoghan McLaughlin, Oisin Mullin and Tommy Conroy offer a fresh line of resistance.

Even still, the sense is that Mayo are no longer the force of old – certainly not defensively.

Tipperary, a Division Three team, created near double-figure goal chances in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Every time they ran at Mayo, the green and red gates seemed to slide invitingly open.

Offer Dublin a similar scent of blood and their carnivore instincts will take over, inflicting instant annihilation.

The kind visited on even those warriors of rare conviction, who go eyeball-to-eyeball with something as ferocious and unceasing as Dublin's storm of steel.

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Online Editors