herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Courage is key to Dubs glory mission

Holders have the artillery... now they need to use it

Dublin’s Paddy Andrews under pressure from Mayo’s Donal Vaughan in the drawn All-Ireland SFC final replay. Pictures: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Paddy Andrews under pressure from Mayo’s Donal Vaughan in the drawn All-Ireland SFC final replay. Pictures: Sportsfile

Carpe diem. Seize the day. Thirteen days beyond schedule, but better late than never, it's time for either Dublin or Mayo to do so.

Both had their chance to claim the prize on September 18. Dublin came closest but would have been blessed to do so.

Mayo's penchant for bad karma (or the wrath of a long-forgotten Foxford cleric, take your pick) was reprised in those two own goals ... but the resilience and bravery of their response warranted at least the deadlock that Cillian O'Connor secured.

And so we've had a fortnight to make sense of it all. Easier said than done.

Compelling

Dublin were firm favourites in advance of the draw, for reasons that looked compelling on paper but far less so in actuality.

It's a valid point to suggest that the bar-of-soap conditions facilitated the controlled aggression of a Mayo back-line that pushed Dublin's marquee forwards to the periphery.

But it was more than that. Dublin were passive by comparison. Whether this was caused by a sudden bout of two-in-a-row nerves; or by mental fatigue (after four long years under Jim Gavin and the emotional roller-coaster of their Kerry semi-final); or even by an infectious strain of complacency is hard to decipher.

Maybe it was none of the above. Maybe it was just one of those stuck-in-neutral days.

Or maybe it was the most obvious manifestation, to date, of Dublin's 2016 obsession with possession.

There are reasons why Dublin have modified their game plan. They have become so accustomed to facing massed defences (especially in the league but more latterly in Leinster) that it has become second nature to try and unravel the blanket through a game of patience.

No more going recklessly for the jugular - Donegal in 2014 put paid to that. But whereas they struck just the right balance last year, now they may have gone too far.

Ignore, for a moment, that miserly 0-6 from play the last day: rain or no rain, that was not the Sky Blue norm. Prior to that, they have been a team content to patiently probe, recycle and start again, until they eventually create a pocket of space for the shooter to take his point.

And they've been very proficient at that, averaging almost 20 points per game before the final. But they had embellished that with just five goals, one per game, pre-Mayo ... and when their point-scoring machine malfunctioned, Dublin were only saved by a brace of outlandish own goals.

The good news? At least those lucky breaks stemmed from cleverly engineered goal chances; and they had another for Brian Fenton, our Footballer of the Year front-runner, in the same period.

Otherwise, though, Mayo's marking was adhesive, their tackling tenacious ... and Dublin's full-forwards struggled for any headway.

Poor individual form - a recurring trait this summer for Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn - is a factor. But surely Brogan would benefit from faster delivery? Patience, it seems, has stifled the team's ability to create space and opportunities for the inside line.

For Dublin to frank their favouritism at the second attempt, they might have to gamble. Take a courageous leap back in time, and return to a version of their original thrilling roots under Gavin.

Their possession-at-all-costs policy starts with the kickout: maybe it's no coincidence that Dublin's first goal, two weeks ago, originated from one of those raking, on-the-money restarts (to Michael Darragh Macauley) that used to be Stephen Cluxton's calling card.

But then going long comes at a risk, too: if Tom Parsons & Co can start turning the screw here, Mayo will be emboldened.

Advantage

Which brings us to the nub of this preview: where lies the advantage, if indeed there is one?

Dublin were red-hot favourites the first day, less so now after the exposure of so many vulnerabilities by a Mayo team that, for the first time this season, started to resemble champions-in-the-making.

Mayo won the intensity and match-up battles, but they didn't win the war because too many performance targets were missed.

Their old Achilles heel (pre-Stephen Rochford) returned in the guise of those two ghoulish goal concessions. Other familiar failures - careless turnovers, via hand or foot; an erratic end product from their forwards; struggling to bring the best out of Aidan O'Shea against Dublin - came back to bite them.

But Mayo should, in theory, take more confidence into this evening's rematch. They know they can rattle Dublin, get under their skin.

They just need some more finesse to make the quantum leap.

Our suspicion, though, is that they won't. Dublin must raise the intensity bar; we believe they will.

Their forwards are on warning to deliver early or suffer the consequences; we suspect that more of them will do so.

Tactically, they must release the handbrake to put Mayo's defence on the back foot; surely Gavin can see this too?

The weather forecast offers mixed messages: rain is promised for the east coast, eventually clearing in late afternoon ... it remains to be seen how this will suit Dublin's dry-ground thoroughbreds.

Will all the above be enough to enshrine their place in history as back-to-back champions? Yes, but only after several more speed bumps. For if the history of Dublin/Mayo has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected.

Odds: Dublin 1/2 Draw 9/1 Mayo 12/5

Verdict: Dublin

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