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Friday 9 December 2016

Roche's Point: Forget the cliches - anything goes in replays

Cillian O'Connor
Cillian O'Connor

YOU'VE heard it all before. "Whoever learns more will win the replay" ... "Whoever has more scope for improvement will do it" ... "Wounded favourites will never give you a second bite" ... etc ad nauseam.

And then, when it's eventually all over, the 20-20 hindsight experts will smugly apply one of the above foolproof theories to explain why the replay unfolded as it did.

Guess what? This is all bunkum.

Dublin/Mayo was one of those precariously balanced collisions where the outcome could not be predicted with any confidence beforehand.

TORRID

Seventy-eight torrid minutes later, we know a lot more and, perversely, we know even less about the likely outcome next Saturday. Moreover, it's still far too early in the week to decipher how both squads are shaping up. Consider what might or might not happen ...

Diarmuid Connolly might, just might, for the second time in his career, have an All-Ireland semi-final red card rescinded. If that happens? A huge advantage for the Dubs, albeit not necessarily a decisive one - remember how Connolly's enemy number one, Lee Keegan, was controversially cleared for last year's semi-final replay against Kerry but failed to reach his usual stellar heights in Limerick. All the off-field furore can prove a distraction.

By the same token, a suspended Connolly equals a major plus for Mayo. Not alone are they spared the headache of trying to man-mark this at-times unmarkable player, but it might free up Keegan for an even more attacking brief.

Then there are the other - potential - disciplinary issues that might require some burning of the midnight oil off the Jones's Road.

Will Philly McMahon have to answer for his tete-a-tete with Aidan O'Shea? Quite possibly, but trying to second-guess the secretive and scarcely consistent machinations of the CCCC or the CHC can appear next to impossible at times.

What about Cillian O'Connor's flailing arm that left Rory O'Carroll bloodied and forced to bow out within minutes? Looking at The Sunday Game's camera shot, O'Connor was being held off the ball and then threw out both arms as if in protest, before his left arm then caught the Dublin full-back flush in the face. It all appeared to happen without O'Connor looking back, in which scenario Mayo could certainly argue that contact was accidental and their man has no case to answer. That, of course, presupposes the CCCC even deem it worthy of investigation.

GRAPPLING

The only thing that can be said with any degree of certainty is that O'Carroll and Dublin paid a heavy price for his grappling ... but if it transpired that O'Connor were to miss the replay, that would constitute arguably an even bigger loss to Mayo than Connolly to Dublin.

Remember, they scored 1-15 of which their deadball specialist contributed a flawless 1-9. The starting Mayo forwards were limited to just 0-1 from play, courtesy of O'Connor's younger brother Diarmuid, so you cannot over-emphasise Cillian's importance to the cause.

Whatever about suspension fears, both rivals have injury issues to tax their medical teams this week. Donal Vaughan would appear a bigger doubt for Mayo than O'Carroll is for Dublin, not that you can expect scrupulously honest selection updates from either camp over the coming days.

Put it this way: will you believe the Mayo line-up whenever it's announced? Or its Dublin equivalent? More fool you.

Dummy teams have become a tedious par for the course, and not even new edicts over the early release of 26-man match day squads have changed that this summer.

The only difference last Sunday is that virtually everyone suspected, well in advance, that Michael Darragh Macauley would start in the Dublin cockpit, notwithstanding his 'non-selection' on Friday night ... whereas Mayo caught a lot more people on the hop with their dummy team.

Even the most clued-in Mayo observers were outfoxed by David Drake's 11th hour promotion; there had been plenty of talk about Barry Moran not starting, with Patrick Durcan touted as a likely replacement, but Drake's SFC debut as a half-forward/half-back floater came totally out of leftfield.

Did it work? Debatable, to say the least. That said, the Mayo jury appears split between a majority who have criticised their initially cautious set-up, allowing Dublin to go short with most first half kickouts, and a minority who say it helped to keep them in the contest.

Now that it's a replay, all we can advise is that you (a) don't believe either team announcement; (b) be prepared for more selection curve balls; (c) expect Day Two to be every bit as feisty, even spiteful; and (d) jump for cover when the 20-20 hindsight bores come calling on Saturday evening.

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