GAA Gaelic Football: Dublin v Mayo preview, predictions and David Jennings' tips
Brian Howard and John Small can deliver for All-Ireland champions
Dublin v Mayo
RTE & Sky Sports, 5pm Saturday
All logic points to an easy Dublin win, probably by more than the five-point handicap, but logic goes out the window where Mayo are concerned so it is hard to be confident about the outcome of the first All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park on Saturday.
Dublin have covered the handicap in all six of their championship matches this year. They have scored 13-124, an average of 27.66 points per game, and conceded just 1-69, an average of 12 points per game. They have yet to concede a goal from play in the championship. They have looked bulletproof.
But that has been the case before and Mayo bring out the worst in them. James Horan's charges are the only team capable of matching Dublin physically and they always seem to get their match-ups spot on when they meet the Dubs.
It looks like Lee Keegan will take up Ciaran Kilkenny and Paddy Durcan will try to repeat his Ryan McHugh heroics on Jack McCaffrey, Brendan Harrison on Paul Mannion, Colm Boyle on Niall Scully and perhaps Matthew Ruane on Brian Fenton. Mayo will need to win at least half of those battles to have any chance of emerging victorious.
But what about Con O'Callaghan? He has really hurt Mayo in the past and can do so again. Brian Howard is the unsung hero of this Dublin team and this game looks tailor-made for John Small.
The challenge facing Dublin is like nothing they have faced this season and that's why Howard and Small could play leading roles. They are hard workers, brilliant at picking up breaking ball, and have the fitness levels to keep going well into the 74th or 75th minute of games.
With weather conditions set to be deplorable with high winds and heavy rain, it will make the midfield battle even more important and Small has the potential to be on the ball more than any other game this year.
Small was sent off in the 48th minute of the 2017 All-Ireland final but he had already got a point by that stage and his style seems to suit Dublin's system when they play Mayo. Expect him to make more forays forward than usual and odds of 2-1 about him getting on the scoresheet are attractive. He could find himself in decent scoring position on four or five occasions and he can take at least one of those chances.
It is hard to resist having a nibble on Small at 25-1 to be RTE man of the match either, while in the same market, Howard could be a few points too big at 16-1. This could be the game where the RTE pundits finally start to sing about Dublin's unsung heroes, especially if they have to dig deep for victory.
The best bet on the match coupon may be 15-8 about the opening period being the higher-scoring half.
Usually, the longer a game goes on the stronger Dublin are, but they have become brilliant at managing big games and, should they build up a three or four-point lead, expect them to play keep-ball and hold on to possession rather than look to extend their advantage.
Not only that, but Mayo will surely start well. They have the benefit of a bruising battle with Donegal last Saturday and won't need any time to acclimatise to their surroundings. Dublin could be shocked by the intensity in the opening exchanges.
It took Jim Gavin a while to get it right against Cork, as the Rebels raced into a huge early lead, and it could be a similar story. Mayo are expected to do most of their damage on the scoreboard in the opening half-hour and their could be an early scoring frenzy.
Dublin's bench is not what it was either. Kevin McManamon is a yard slower, as is Eoghan O'Gara and Bernard Brogan, so Cormac Costello is the only real impact player among their subsitutions, unless Diarmuid Connolly is asked to make an impression after last Sunday's return.
It is hard to see Dublin's subs having the same sort of impact as in the 2017 All-Ireland final but Dublin ought to be in cruise control by the time they arrive.
Dublin's game management is one of their biggest assets so don't expect them to be going gung-ho for scores in the closing stages if they are in front. They are not playing Louth or Roscommon this time, it is a Mayo side with the potential to trouble their five-in-a-row bid.
Dublin are fancied to advance, probably by somewhere between three and seven points.
First half to be higher-scoring
3pts 15-8 Betfair, Paddy Power
John Small over 0.5 points
2pts 2-1 Paddy Power
John Small man of the match
1pt 25-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
Brian Howard man of the match
1pt 16-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
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