Monday 23 April 2018

Dublin can look out for something unexpected from Mayo

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea

Momentum is a powerful force in sport. In 2010, from the mess of an awful defeat to Meath and with the memory of that incineration by Kerry the previous August still sharp in the mind, we inadvertently 'found ourselves' as a team.

Not immediately.

Anyone who was at our qualifier matches against Louth, Tipperary or Armagh would testify that we weren't exactly setting the footballing world alight.

But we were playing regular games and winning.

Matches where the strength of opposition meant management could try little things out without really risking another loss, but by the same token games that carried the pressure that our season would end if we lost.

Those games helped to rebuild the self-belief of a fragile Dublin group.

People remember the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final win over Tyrone as being the one that announced our arrival as Sam Maguire contenders but the previous summer they were Ulster champions and we hadn't beaten them under Mickey Harte.


It was only two years on from being taken apart by Tyrone in Croke Park in 'Pillar' Caffey's last match in charge and it was the first time we had beaten a real September force.

Two months earlier, we were hammered by Meath and people were asking whether Pat Gilroy was the right man to manage the team.

Would we have beaten Tyrone if we hadn't been forced to embark on a fact-finding mission about ourselves? Who knows.

So it's not just the experience of playing nines games that will stand to Mayo now.

It's the upward trajectory of their performances, culminating in that impressive victory over Kerry a couple of Sundays back.

That display was the fruit of the seeds of all their previous eight games.

When you go through the qualifiers, you tend to just scrape through.

Which means you build character by chiselling out victories from positions of potential peril, even if the performances aren't immediately of the standard the team is capable of.

The forwards get to road test their shooting in pressurised atmospheres and familiarise themselves with each other's movements.

Once you keep winning, it just adds to the reserves of momentum and confidence and when you look at it that way, it gives Mayo a serious chance going into this All-Ireland final on Sunday week.

We've watched the form of some of their key players drastically improve as summer has gone on.

Tight games. Big scraps. They've been around for so long with the same group of players, everyone's just waiting for them to fade from view and after they were beaten in Connacht by Galway, no one gave them a chance of still being here now.

If I remember correctly, people were calling for Stephen Rochford's head.

Now, he knows his players' form better than Jim Gavin knows his.

He has a couple of options off the bench we didn't think Mayo possessed back in June.

And you can only but be impressed by what he has done in the last couple of months.

He's made big, brave calls and kept his counsel when there's been a lot of negative comment flying his way.He has bigger calls to make going into the final too.

Does he want to protect his full-back line or does he want to push up hard and go after Dublin?

I'd be surprised if he doesn't set up Mayo to have a proper crack, regardless of the potential for disaster.

If the Tyrone match proved anything, it's that conservatism doesn't work against Dublin.

What he does with Aidan O'Shea now will be fascinating.

Rochford would, all things considered, be mad to play him permanently in a full-forward line that has become lethal as summer has worn on.

The dynamic Cillian O'Connor, Andy Moran and Jason Doherty have now is as rare as it is difficult to cultivate.

So the most likely posting for O'Shea is around the middle of the field, which means you're risking him having to move with Brian Fenton and James McCarthy over 70 grueling minutes.

That's probably Rochford's biggest call.

And while Mayo can be fairly confident of what they'll produce on September 17, Dublin have to have little doubts.

That's an inevitable part of not being in a tight championship game and not having been forced to figure it out when things were going wrong.

They're coming off winning the last two All-Irelands but I can't remember another team that has had such an amenable path to a final as Dublin have had this year. They're a supremely confident, well-oiled team that know instinctively how to win at this stage but if there is doubt in the back of my mind about this year's All-Ireland final, it's because of Mayo.

They have that momentum and the associated confidence.

Stride for stride

And even though they haven't beaten Dublin since 2012, they've gone stride for stride with them in so many big championship games that they won't harbour the self-doubt lots of teams take with them into games against the Dubs these days.

Plus, they have the element of the unknown.

Any manager who drops the All Star goalkeeper or plays Aidan O'Shea at full-back is capable of anything.

This week, Jim Gavin will be analysing Mayo in microscopic detail and arranging his match-ups.

He will look at David Clarke's kick-outs; where he tends to aim, his preferred targets and how far he can kick them.

But with Mayo, you just can't be certain.Rochford has thrown a couple of curve balls already this summer and he'll know that putting Dublin on the back foot and giving them something they haven't prepared for is vital.

I'm sure we'll see another one in the final, designed to unnerve Dublin.

This is the week Rochford needs to outfox Jim Gavin.

He's passed every other test put in front of him this summer and just like his players, Rochford's only remaining task is cracking the big one on Sunday week.

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