Tuesday 25 October 2016

Ciaran Whelan: Jim Gavin made all the right calls to see Dubs home

Two-goal blitz and impact of bench decisive as Dubs claim merited win

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan takes on Mayo’s Ger Cafferkey during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay at Croke Park
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan takes on Mayo’s Ger Cafferkey during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay at Croke Park

I Suggested in last Monday's column that Saturday's replay in Croke Park would bear little resemblance to what occurred six days previously and thankfully so it proved as we were treated to an excellent match between two teams intent on playing the game in the right spirit.

From a Dublin perspective, it is brilliant that they have reached an All-Ireland final and the manner of their display was the perfect antidote to the negativity that permeated all the media in the past week.

The pace at which the game was played was electrifying and I can't remember seeing a game played at such speed, especially in the first-half when both teams traded scores at regular intervals.

It was such an enjoyable half of football with the ball in play for such a long time and ultimately, that had an effect on how the second-half turned out with Dublin's use of their bench pivotal once bodies began to inevitably tire.

I believe Jim Gavin and his management team deserve huge credit for both their team selection and also the timing of their substitutions with Michael Darragh Macauley, Kevin McManamon, Alan Brogan and Michael Fitzsimons all playing hugely influential cameos upon their introduction.

That they were able to make such an impact was down to Dublin's bright play in attack in the first-half with Paddy Andrews deserving all the accolades that came his way for a brilliant individual display.

It is very rare to see a player of the calibre of Keith Higgins given such a run-a-round in these circumstances and Andrews' return to the team has offered Dublin a more balanced attacking unit.

His four first-half points were crucial as Mayo were highlighting their own forward talent through fine solo scores by Cillian O'Connor and Diarmuid O'Connor but Dublin looked far more fluent in attack during that period.

However, I was concerned at the break as once Mayo stopped focusing on their aerial game, which was nullified to a large degree by Rory O'Carroll and the excellent Philly McMahon, their running game began to punch holes in the Dublin middle third with alarming ease.

The threat that Aidan O'Shea presented last Saturday, and indeed the previous Sunday, was minimal and the Dublin defence deserve huge credit in the manner in which they nullified that attacking option.

However, Mayo resumed well as Dublin struggled to kick-start their challenge in the second-half and matters looked bleak when Cillian O'Connor found the net after excellent play from another substitute Andy Moran.

I'm not sure if Lee Keegan's subsequent miss, when he kicked into Stephen Cluxton's hands from 25 metres, could be called a defining moment of the game but Dublin kicked into life from that juncture with Macauley bringing some much-needed energy to the Dublin midfield.

He looked someway back to his old self as he burst through tiring Mayo limbs and his partnership with Brian Fenton, who gave a mature and confident performance in midfield, allowed Dublin to gain the upper hand.

It was Fenton who raced onto Alan Brogan's perceptive pass and although his low shot lacked direction, Bernard Brogan highlighted what a brilliant and productive forward he is with his poacher's instincts allowing him to prod home.


With Aidan O'Shea having been brought out from full-forward, the knock-on effect of that switch proved Mayo's downfall within two minutes as McMahon, who was outstanding and should be in line for an All Star this year, followed him all day and was able to make that decisive run to bundle Brogan's pass over the line for the all-important second goal.

From that point, Dublin played a dangerous game in terms of keeping possession and I was slightly concerned that approach could prove their undoing, as it had in the initial match as they failed to hold on to a seven-point lead. To their credit, they were quite composed in that regard as Mayo struggled hugely to raise their intensity in the final ten minutes and the patience that Dublin played out the concluding ten minutes allowed them to hit on the counter-attack with McManamon's insurance goal the perfect illustration of that with Fenton once again playing a key role in that score.

For what was difficult week for Dublin in terms of their preparation, I think the team deserve immense credit for how they played and Gavin, of course, had the team in decent condition coming into the game with few signs of mental fatigue evident.

For Mayo, it was another difficult and heart-breaking defeat on the big stage but they can be immensely proud of their efforts both this year and over the past five years.

They definitely possess the personnel, talent and application to make that final step to All-Ireland glory but with each year that passes, they appear to fall short by the finest of margins although there was no "hard-luck story" attached to Saturday's defeat.

They will be back again, of that there is no question, but ultimately it was the concession of those two goals in two minutes that undermined their ambitions with the sloppy defending for both not what we would expect of Sam Maguire contenders.

Dublin were sharp enough to take advantage of that sloppiness and the momentum from those scores proved decisive in what was another compelling tie between the old rivals.

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