Billy Joe Padden: If Mayo stick to the plan, they can beat Dublin
Go man-for-man and Dublin can blow you away, but Billy Joe backs his county if they stick to their defensive system
THE bell for round two beckons, and Billy Joe Padden believes the pendulum has swung in favour of his native Mayo.
But he's not shouting it from the rooftops: this All-Ireland semi-final remains balanced on the most precarious of tightropes, with so many imponderables and so many areas for improvement - on both sides.
"Initially you think the advantage lies with Mayo because they should have lost the game really," says the Mayo footballer-turned-Newstalk analyst about last Sunday's helter-skelter stalemate.
"After 65 minutes, Dublin had performed much better than them. Dublin had defended really well.
"Mayo really didn't play that well. But for the penalty, Mayo weren't going to come back by scoring points … even though, for the second half, apart from the bit in the middle, Mayo had an awful lot of possession.
"But then, I do think each management team will be looking for the psychological advantage. Mayo came out saying they felt great. Jim Gavin came out saying they felt good because it was their first real test … it's very close, but I still give the edge to Mayo. It depends on how the suspensions go."
Or rather, how Diarmuid Connolly's hearing goes tonight. Just one of the imponderables.
"If you look at it this way, Kevin Keane got off," Padden recounts, harking back to the Mayo defender's surprise success in having his Donegal red card rescinded. "He got off for a clear striking action, even though there was not much force.
"I have not seen the Connolly incident too well; I'd say Mayo will be expecting him to get off, and Lee Keegan will be preparing all week to be his shadow for the replay."
Padden knows what it's like to be part of a green-and-red army that battles back from the apparent oblivion of a seven-point semi-final deficit to Dublin. He was there in 2006, starting at wing-forward, although he had returned to the bench by the time Mayo belatedly took off.
Last Sunday was a totally different game than '06: this time there was no pre-match invasion of the Hill or resultant ruaile buaile but, once the whistle went, there were big hits, late tackles, off-the-ball belts and a recurring techniness bordering, at times, on anarchy.
Padden fully expects Saturday's replay to be physical, but not as frazzled. The problem with last Sunday, he believes, is that Joe McQuillan "didn't stamp his authority on the game early enough. Sometimes that's needed - be it a black card or an early yellow. Cian O'Sullivan got away with a blatant pull of the jersey, and it allowed him to have another cut early in the second half.
"If that happened earlier in the game, you might have had more flow. I think the referee going into this game will be very keen to stamp his authority on the game early. I think the players will realise that and be a bit more careful in terms of the early fouling, so it could be a more fluent game."
He goes on: "Dublin have the best attacking team in the country and they still played a very conservative game. The impressive thing about Dublin on Sunday is they were so good defensively for 65 minutes.
"There's a lot of talk that Mayo should go man-for-man and push up and that would help their forwards get a bit more rhythm. I would disagree. I think if you go and play open football against Dublin, they will cut you to shreds. If you go man-for-man all over the pitch, it's a very dangerous game to play.
"That is what some Mayo people are going for, but I would expect both teams being cagey enough in the first half again. The main priority will be to get to half-time fairly close, and be defensively sound. I'd say leave that to the second half."
Yet, there are several areas where Mayo should tinker. He believes it was a mistake not to start Barry Moran last Sunday and would recall him now - not as the sweeper because he isn't the most mobile (that role could go elsewhere) but as one of three midfielders.
He also advocates pressing Cillian O'Connor closer to goal, playing off Aidan O'Shea, as this would remove the imperative for O'Shea to catch every ball cleanly and would create "a different dynamic" for Dublin to worry about.
Whereas Dublin "defended very well" the last day, Mayo "attacked in ones; there was no support. They need to get their runners off the shoulder. If they play three midfielders, they need Séamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons, and Jason Doherty and Diarmuid O'Connor, working more together with each other, rather than kicking it long or going alone. That definitely wasn't there on Sunday."
Padden admits that he differs from the Mayo majority in pronouncing himself happy with how they set up against Stephen Cluxton's kickout, initially allowing him to find a free man by going very short during the first half.
"He is the best 'keeper ever, but he really looked a bit rattled near the end," surmises the son of Mayo icon Willie Joe.
"Mayo dominated the second half in terms of possession until the second (Dublin) goal … that five-minute spell is the evidence that you don't play man-on-man against Dublin. As the game gets more ragged, Dublin did look like they could have blown Mayo away in that phase.
"Mayo did pretty well in containing what Dublin have, even though their full-back line could have defended a bit better on both goals - that has been a problem all year.
"A bigger area of improvement is they have to do better when in possession of the ball.
"You couldn't say one Mayo forward played well in open play … Diarmuid O'Connor played well, but apart from that there's a lot more in the other lads. Cillian O'Connor's frees were outstanding.
"The real focus for Mayo all week should be on that, rather than any change tactically. If you decide to do this against Dublin, I would do it again and try to do it a bit better."
Besides, he concludes, you only have six days to get it right for the replay. Mayo have spent the last three months fine-tuning a new defensive game plan, so it doesn't make sense to suddenly ditch it and revert to last year's Plan A.
all-ireland SFC semi-final REPLAY