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Friday 9 December 2016

Ciaran Whelan: Dubs replay will be case of familiarity breeds contempt

30 August 2015; Aidan O'Shea, Mayo, in action against Dublin players, from left, James McCarthy, Cian O'Sullivan and Philly McMahon. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Dublin v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin
30 August 2015; Aidan O'Shea, Mayo, in action against Dublin players, from left, James McCarthy, Cian O'Sullivan and Philly McMahon. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Dublin v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin
Aidan O'Shea, Mayo, is tackled by James McCarthy, Dublin.

I think it is fair to say that the match yesterday failed to match its billing as the tension of the occasion got to both teams and it probably was a mitigating factor in the scrappiness of much of the play.

In addition to that, both teams have come across each other numerous times in recent years and, as so often happens between two teams of a relatively even standard, familiarity breeds contempt so there was a fair degree of contempt on show at Croke Park yesterday afternoon.

I believe that Joe McQuillan could have stamped out some of the niggly stuff early on and maybe the ensuing messiness and off-the-ball nonsense may not have materialised, but he seemed slow to address the situation and there was a carte blanche in terms of ill-discipline as a result.

Dublin will be disappointed that they conceded so many frees, some of them slightly soft I thought, but they were too ill-disciplined in the tackle and they suffered as a result.

Of course, they'll also be hugely disappointed to have lost such a massive lead with so little time left as they appeared to be coasting at that stage with the momentum provided by Kevin McManamon's sharply taken goal.

Brian Fenton did very well to poke the ball clear when the initial attempt was blocked and McManamon was once again in the right place at the right time to highlight his predatory instincts.

It looked a lost cause for Mayo once both Bernard Brogan and Alan Brogan added points but the black card suffered by Denis Bastick was a huge moment in terms of the midfield battle with Dublin suffering irrevocable damage in the aerial challenges as a consequence.

I actually felt that the black card handed to Michael Darragh Macauley was a positive for Dublin as Bastick was hugely influential upon his introduction and he kept Dublin on the front foot until his needless hand trip late on.

From that point, Mayo put added pressure on Dublin's kick-outs, forcing Stephen Cluxton to kick long and with few options at his disposal, the ball was returned with added interest into Dublin's half as Mayo launched repeated attacks. Of course, the penalty awarded to Colm Boyle was very soft and he certainly looked to have deceived McQuillan but Dublin shouldn't really have been in such a precarious position at that stage given the control that they had with ten minutes remaining.

I was confident enough at half-time that Dublin would prevail as they appeared far more composed in their build-up play as Cluxton's short kick-outs and Mayo's decision to play with an extra defender ensured there was an overlap on offer at all times.

As a result, Dublin were able to control the tempo of the game in bypassing the supposed aerial dominance that Mayo had and both Ciarán Kilkenny and Paddy Andrews kicked some fine scores as Dublin led by three at the interval.

Struggles

Given their struggles in the first half, Mayo would have been very pleased to have trailed by just three points at half-time and they improved significantly upon the restart as they ran more at Dublin, creating their own overlaps and scoring opportunities.

Some poor kicking undermined their play and McManamon's goal should have knocked the stuffing out of them but they deserve great credit for keeping their composure in the closing stages and they kicked some good scores under pressure.

Whether they have an advantage for the replay is arguable, despite the fact that they finished in the ascendancy, as Dublin will learn a lot from yesterday's match and Jim Gavin and his back-room team will surely address some of the issues that handicapped his side. Naturally, Dublin could well be without Diarmuid Connolly unless Dublin feel that an appeal is warranted given that Connolly was not the instigator in his altercation with Lee Keegan.

Connolly should not have reacted as he did and lashed out inappropriately but he was targeted throughout the game and the frustration seemed to take its toll eventually and I would have sympathy for his predicament.

Of course, in the interest of balance, Aidan O'Shea was similarly targeted but Connolly's loss could prove immeasurable for Dublin, especially as their attack failed to ignite throughout the 70 minutes.

Replays are all about what teams learn from the first day and we can expect another absorbing encounter next weekend with the repercussions of some of the off-the-ball incidents sure to dominate the build-up for what should be another close, hard fought and difficult to predict contest.

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