Dubs will aim to turn Mayo's strengths into weaknesses
Has a manager ever had as many options going into an All-Ireland football final? Dublin boss Jim Gavin was able to leave two former Footballers of the Year, Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley, on the bench for an All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone and give Diarmuid Connolly just a handful of minutes, a stark reminder, if one was even required, of their depth and evolution.
Gavin has clearly realised that to stand still in any way is to leave themselves vulnerable and that change must be continuous.
In contrast, tomorrow's opponents Mayo are back in an All-Ireland final drawing from the same 16 players for starting places 12 months on but setting up in a slightly different way.
Through the lens of the Dublin management, there are a number of key Mayo areas that they know must be targeted.
It is a contradiction to suggest that one of their main strengths may be considered a weakness. But that's the way I see Mayo's kick-out. Mayo have developed a much better ability to retain possession from their own kick-outs, especially in the Roscommon and Kerry replays. But it can't be overlooked that the kick-out prompted change between the two All-Ireland finals last year.
They've been able to drive runners off the kick-outs they have retained. Those runners are the strongest part of Mayo's game. Dublin will fear Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, Paddy Durcan and Kevin McLoughlin coming from deep positions more than they will fear Mayo's full-forward line, which has done well this season.
That's why you'll see Dean Rock, Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion coming off their own men and chasing back to disrupt those runners like they did so successfully against Tyrone, possibly the hardest-working performance from a group of inside forwards I have seen.
One of Mayo's greatest strengths is their ability to apply pressure high up the field. Roscommon and Kerry have felt it but Dublin have the more complete footballers in defence capable of engineering their way out of trouble. Mayo might have to collectively take a step back and create those intense conditions in the middle third instead.
There's a question over Aidan O'Shea's deployment this time. He'll play around the middle but I'm sure there'll be a temptation to put him inside, especially if things aren't working out for Moran.
As much as Mayo have profited from their kick-out in recent games, Dublin will seek to turn it into a weakness again.
David Clarke has a very predictable kick-out and favours his left side for his deliveries. He lifts it high and from the positioning of his feet, it becomes clear where the ball is heading. He's not good at changing his mind at the last second.
Dublin will seek to squeeze very hard on Clarke, especially early on. They'll challenge it aggressively and I feel they'll get a lot of success from it.
The team was finalised last night but if I was Stephen Rochford I'd be taking out Seamus O'Shea, playing Lee Keegan at midfield and bringing in Patrick Durcan to apply more pace to the middle.
Both Tom Parsons and O'Shea are good footballers but they are not dangerous footballers and don't recover well when possession is lost.
One of Mayo's weaknesses is their lack of cover up front. Andy Moran has been a huge player for them this year but what happens if Dublin do a number on him? Will it suck the energy out of Mayo?
You could say Dublin have leaders in almost every position. Captain Stephen Cluxton is the obvious chief source. That goes without saying.
Philly McMahon didn't start much under Pat Gilroy but he has become a mainstay who has curbed indiscipline, brings the edge and sets the tone. Cian O'Sullivan's ability to read a game, to know when to stay and when to go, is unmatched right now. He was exceptional against Tyrone.
Dublin haven't lost a championship game since Ciaran Kilkenny returned from a cruciate ligament injury and is the perfect fit for the pivotal link role. This time, Mayo might detail Lee Keegan to mark him.
Paddy Andrews has become a massive player under Jim Gavin. His movement creates great space for others. He's intelligent and is a composed finisher though he won't see out 70 minutes. Dealing with the three-in-a-row isn't a big issue for them because, deep down, this team knows they are good enough for four-in-a-row or five-in-a-row.
The mind games
There's been quite a bit of focus on Joe McQuillan's role but for me he has always been a sensible referee, not in the business of looking for trouble. He refereed a few of Donegal's games with Tyrone and with Monaghan and was always happy to let things go to a certain level.
If Dublin put John Small on Aidan O'Shea, as I expect they will, that's one potential flashpoint he'll be keeping an eye on because Small got away with a few fouls on Peter Harte, picking up a yellow for one early on. But by the time he was taken off, his job was done.
McMahon has pushed the boundaries with Aidan O'Shea in the past but there will be that temptation to put O'Shea in for periods to try to break McMahon. If Mayo got something out of that, it would be massive.
How they score on the early kick-outs always has an impact. Pressure on Clarke early would increase the tension for Mayo but Mayo also need to take Dublin out of their comfort zone and push up very hard on the Cluxton kick-out. Give them the ball too easily and the game is over.
Last year the impetus of the Dublin bench got them over the line. But what stood out for me was how three of the last four points from two of those substitutes, Bernard Brogan and Cormac Costello, came off their weaker left feet. When the pressure is at its highest and players can do that so comfortably that's massive and can't be taken for granted.
In a game sure to be highly physical, free-taking will count for so much. Dean Rock struggled in the drawn game but put it right the next day. Cillian O'Connor has dropped this season from that 90% return he has consistently delivered in the past.
- Former Donegal boss Rory Gallager is the new manager of Fermanagh