Tuesday 12 December 2017

Coman Goggins: Dubs find the killer instinct that Mayo still lack

Bernard Brogan
Bernard Brogan

AS the dust settles on an 11th All-Ireland title for Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody, his comments from earlier in the year, around the need for teams to have A ruthless streak if they want to be successful, really struck a chord as I cast an eye back on last Saturday's All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay.

"People say going out in a match that 'we're prepared to die to win this game' but that's a dangerous thing to say. You should never say you're prepared to die to win. You should always be prepared to kill to win a game. That's the difference," Cody said.

Dublin's amassing 2-3 in the space of a few second half minutes was without question a significant turning point, but in my view the momentum swing came in the proceeding ten minutes when, with their opponents teetering on the brink, Mayo loosened the stranglehold and allowed the Dubs that vital breath of air that fed the revival.

Between Cillian O'Connor hitting the back of the Dublin net on 42 minutes and Patrick Durcan's excellently worked score ten minutes later, Mayo had six possessions that yielded only one other shot on goal, which was Lee Keegan's effort that dropped short when it should have put five points between the teams.

With Dublin struggling to regain a foothold in the game and equally as culpable of turning over cheap ball, Mayo's inability to keep the scoreboard ticking over and their failure to take the sting out of the game and force Dublin to chase them down was where the rot set in for the Westerners.

Last Sunday week, when they threw caution to the wind and squeezed Stephen Cluxton's kickouts, they reaped great reward, but when Durcan clipped his score, instead of pushing right up they dropped off and allowed the Parnell's man an easy kickout that was the starting point for a move that ended with an important James McCarthy's point.

With the game in the balance, Mayo needed cool heads. Munster rugby's Frankie Sheehan used a phrase during their run to Heineken Cup success in 2002, 'ice in the mind, fire in the belly', and still a goal to the good the priority should have been to secure easy possession. Amazingly, their next three kickouts, two of which resulted in Dublin goals, went long despite the fact that both Seamus O'Shea (black card) and Barry Moran were off the field and Dublin, through the introduction of Michael Darragh Macauley, were now bossing the middle third.

As with the problems Cluxton faced a week earlier, a kickout is only as effective as the options that are offered to you by willing workers out the field.


Forced long, Robbie Hennelly was applying further pressure on his team-mates and providing Dublin with a lifeline that they ruthlessly exploited as Mayo lost their composure.

Four points to the good, Dublin's experience was there for all to see. No doubt hurting from the seven-point reversal from the drawn encounter, they retained possession by shifting the ball either across the field or, more frustratingly from a Mayo perspective, backwards to Cluxton.

This lateral passing is a new feature with the Dubs, however the key difference from six days previously, was that when they opted to move the ball forward, they had willing runners across their back six.

Rory O'Carroll and Cian O'Sulllivan both pushed out when the opportunity presented, while James McCarthy, who more often than not checked his runs in the drawn game, carried ball excellently all through the game. In 2013, when Gavin last guided Dublin to an All-Ireland final, one of the primary features of the team was the pace at which they moved the ball.

I imagine that last year's semi-final loss to Donegal had a significant bearing on why the team were so coy and defensive in the drawn game, but by focusing on stopping the opposition they basically neglected their own strengths and made life easy for Mayo.

Philly McMahon was a prime example of this. Tasked with marking Aidan O'Shea the first day out, McMahon didn't manage to offer himself, as he so often does, as that extra body in attack and while he negated the big Breaffy man's impact, the Dublin set-up, which focused on protecting against goals effectively, allowed O'Shea dictate where Philly played the game. With a return to their more characteristic playing style and broader focus on hitting Mayo at pace last Saturday, the Ballymun man set the rules of engagement by taking O'Shea on those runs that every forward hates and when he burned him off, the resultant 1-2 he bagged was a fair reflection of the major influence he had on the game.

For Mayo, and their bewildered but loyal supporters, the road to redemption will start again in a couple of months time, but without significant surgery across their offensive unit their Achilles heel will remain in attack, where they lack that element of guile and creativity that is needed to push them over the line.

In contrast, the Dubs will now prepare to meet a forward unit who have a proven ability to open up even the meanest of defences, and while Gavin's own attack provided a glimpse of its potency, with fine performances from Paddy Andrews, Ciarán Kilkenny and Bernard Brogan, the big challenge is just how the Dubs remain loyal to their game-plan, while trying to stop the momentum behind Kerry's quest for back-to-back All-Ireland titles.

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