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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Ciaran Whelan: Dubs hold edge as round two looms

Blues have more room to improve despite Mayo's strong showing

Denis Bastick in action last Sunday
Denis Bastick in action last Sunday

It is amazing what can change over 70 minutes of football. A healthy rivalry between Dublin and Mayo has become a rivalry now full of tension following the fall-out from last weekend's drawn game. The temperature amongst supporters of both teams has reached boiling point. That's the nature of the GAA, it is parochial, it is passionate but isn't it bloody great that we can look forward to it all again tomorrow evening.

Last weekend's game may not have been the spectacle we anticipated but it was still full of intrigue and entertainment.

A full-blooded game played right on the edge by athletes in their prime. Played right on the edge because they were allowed to play on the edge. Each inter-county player will do whatever it takes to win, even if sometimes with that comes the risk of crossing the line.

SIDESHOWS

Putting aside all the sideshows and controversy, you can rest assured that both camps will have put the last weekend's game behind them fairly quickly and will be looking at areas for improvement.

Both teams have plenty to digest so where can we expect the focus to be from both counties as they prepare for the replay? Both have plenty of food for thought.

For Dublin, the areas for improvement are more simplistic and that will breed some confidence within the county.

Firstly, there is no doubting the intensity of battle for a full 70 minutes will bring Dublin on in terms of their sharpness and reactions.

Losing that extra second against top class opposition to evaluate your options when in possession is critical and Dublin made a lot of unforced errors when in primary possession. They will be better prepared this weekend and a simple reduction in basic turnovers can make a significant difference to the outcome.

Secondly, they will not give up 1-9 from placed balls this weekend and their discipline in the tackle will be more controlled and composed. Lastly, after proving that he is human after all, Stephen Cluxton will not have a day like he had in the drawn game, simple as.

If Dublin get the basics right, ensure they are accurate from placed balls, and move the ball at a quicker pace from defence to attack, they can still cause a lot of problems for Mayo.

Mayo will feel they have a big advantage in midfield where they took control in the last quarter next weekend. Brian Fenton will learn a lot from last week's intense battle and he will require the support of Denis Bastick from the start tomorrow evening.

Bastick was hugely influential in the aerial exchanges when he came on in the second half and was a huge loss after his black card. His aerial presence together with Paul Flynn dropping deeper into midfield is needed when Cluxton is forced to go long for primary possession.

Dublin's kick-out strategy will again go a long way to dictating proceedings and to their credit Mayo are set up well to counter this advantage.

Mayo pushed up with a zonal marking system on Dublin's kick-out's last weekend. By that I mean they do not go tight man-on-man but they spread their forwards across the Dublin backline and ensure they limit the pockets of space for Cluxton to kick into.

In some ways they are nearly tempting Cluxton to take a 40-metre kick-out that needs to be on the money otherwise Mayo are ready to pounce.

ONLY OPTION

In the first half last weekend, Cluxton's only option was to go short to his own corner. Mayo tweaked their system at half-time and pushed up a bit higher with an extra man.

This resulted in Cluxton going long for six second half kick-outs with Dublin only winning one.

Mayo will reflect on the game reviewing each half separately and will also look to tweak their tactics in order gain an advantage. Their tactics in the first half last weekend defensively and offensively were certainly questionable.

While both teams played sweepers in Colm Boyle and Cian O'Sullivan, they played their roles distinctly different. Boyle operated as a sweeper in a central position moving between the full-back and centre-back positions.

David Drake, who was a late addition to the Mayo team, was commissioned with the job of dropping into the vacated space behind midfield left by Boyle.

In doing so, Boyle was left to protect the full-back line and was the additional defender in position if Dublin ran at Mayo down the middle.

Boyle's role though was negated by the quality of the Dublin's kick-passing where they were used the diagonal ball to great effect to set up easy scoring chances.

In contrast Cian O'Sullivan played the sweeper role with more effectiveness. O'Sullivan played laterally across the defence 30 metres from his goal. His constant movement across the line cut off any options for Mayo to deliver any quality ball to Aidan O'Shea or Cillian O'Connor.

Mayo's commitment to their defensive structure limited their options up front which left them lacking any shape in their forward unit. More will be expected from Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin in the half-forward and I expect Mayo will vary the style of their offensive play by running the ball on occasion.

Replays can sometimes be about one of the managers pulling a rabbit from the hat. Brian Cody springing Walter Walsh for the All-Ireland hurling replay in 2013 is a perfect example. If both managers implement the same plan, they can expect pretty much the same outcome.

When it comes to the variables maybe Mayo probably have more options. With Aidan O'Shea coming in for so much attention in the full-forward line, they may decide to alter his role and use him out the field for some periods of the game.

Barry Moran is another key man for Dublin to watch if he starts or comes off the bench. Moran can play around the middle or could join O'Shea in the full-forward line which would add a different dimension.

Dublin resembled a boxer on the ropes in the last five minutes hanging for the final bell. If Mayo get momentum in the final quarter their raw hunger and desire will push Dublin all the way.

However, Dublin for me appear to have more scope for obvious improvement and still have the ability to take scores and create goal chances with a bit more ease.

With the officials on high alert, I expect a more open game of football which might just suit the Dublin style. With Diarmuid Connolly missing, his team-mates may just pull out a big performance.

Dubs to prevail by a couple of points.

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