Friday 15 December 2017

Dublin will be ready for Mayo this time

Writing exclusively for The Herald, All-Ireland-winning centre-back believes Gavin's men have the edge

Mayo's Jason Doherty is quickly closed down Dublin players, left to right, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, and Jonny Cooper
Mayo's Jason Doherty is quickly closed down Dublin players, left to right, James McCarthy, Jack McCaffrey, and Jonny Cooper

On returning home last Sunday evening having watched Dublin and Mayo's drawn semi-final, my mind began to instinctively replay the key moments of the game, over and over.

Naturally enough, that feeling of frustration from earlier began to resurface within me, as Dublin could not close out their seven-point lead. My thoughts drifted to players' feelings in the Hogan Stand dressing rooms: Mayo, energised by the efforts of their sprint finish; Dublin, feeling hurt yet thankful for another outing.

I also imagined if I would have made a difference in those final moments; what actions I could have taken to ensure a third All-Ireland Final appearance for Dublin in five years. Eventually, I succumbed to tiredness and drifted off to sleep full of anticipation for today at 5pm!


During the following day, that sense of excitement I felt towards the replay was replaced by anger, primarily due to the disproportionate and unbalanced public condemnation of Dublin's discipline in the game.

Almost all media pundits and broadcasters delivered their unfair verdicts through Green and Red Rose-Tinted glasses. There was little mention of the provocation by Lee Keegan on Diarmuid Connolly during the entire game and, indeed, in the lead-up to the latter's sending off.

Additionally, it could be argued that Cillian O'Connor struck out at Connolly as he struggled to break from Keegan's headlock - but this was totally overlooked; not to mention the swipe O'Connor took at Rory O'Carroll which resulted in him pouring blood from a cut above his eye and missing practically the entire game.

This injury was hardly self-inflicted. But why did referee Joe McQuillan elect not to consult with his match officials to any great degree?

Yes, it is an All-Ireland semi-final and players' emotions are in a heightened sense which occasionally results in altercations spilling overboard.

But let us - the public, the media, referees and GAA officials - offer a fair and balanced judgement on incidents that occur during the game.

For impartial and balanced post-game analysis we must be respectful to players and management from both camps.

Ultimately, we have a group of amateurs who have dedicated their lives to reaching the Holy Grail, and when only one set of players is unduly tarnished by the media (as happened to Dublin this week), we are damaging the integrity and honesty of their efforts.

Moving forward to this today's replay, and akin to last year's repeat, in which Mayo fell to Gaelic football's aristocrats Kerry, both Dublin and Mayo will have gained much knowledge of each other's respective strengths and weaknesses.

This recent insight will only add some additional flavour to what is already a very tasty encounter.

To focus in on the challenges facing Mayo for a moment, there are three clear problems they will need to solve to be victorious in today's encounter.

The first issue is Mayo's attacking unit. Bar the scores from substitutes Andy Moran (0-2) and Alan Freeman (0-1), Mayo's starting six returned just one point from play in almost 80 minutes of championship football; that well-struck point coming from the boot of Diarmuid O' Connor.

I cannot envisage Laois whistler Eddie Kinsella being as capricious in his interpretation of the tackle as Joe McQuillan turned out to be. Additionally, Dublin's defensive unit will surely seek to rectify the free count that resulted in Cillian O'Connor scoring 1-9 from dead balls.

As a defender, awarding an opponent uncontested free hots at the post, hurts your pride.

Thus, I cannot envisage Dublin reliving a Groundhog Day experience in their execution of the tackle.

Mayo then may decide to employ a more offensive strategy in the replay. While Barry Moran's introduction for Seamus O'Shea made a difference in their winning of primary possession in the middle third, he may be deployed alongside Aidan O'Shea at the top of Dublin's square; an option that has paid dividends for Mayo in previous encounters.

Then again, Aidan O'Shea might enjoy a better day against Dublin's Philly McMahon this time round - the latter who was subjected to unfair and one-sided criticism by members of the media. I know McMahon enjoys a robust style to his play but it takes two to tango, as is evident from last week's TV footage.

However Mayo line up, the pressure is on for their forwards to add to the scoreboard from open play.

The second challenge for Mayo resides in their full-back line. In their four games to date, they have yet to find consistency in selection and performance within this crucial line.

On occasion in this year's championship, they have struggled to handle the better inside forwards and this is an area Dublin could exploit in the replay.


Finally, the perennial question for Mayo, and possibly their toughest one: do Mayo have the mental capacity to reach that elusive prize of holding Sam Maguire aloft in the Hogan Stand on September 20?

While their expectant fans exhale their annual air of entitlement to Sam, the reality is this - sportsmen and women don't always get what they deserve. They have to show up on any given day and earn it. This Dublin team have more experience and success at the business end of the championship than their opponents. Mentally, they are strong and they know how to win the big games.

Last week they played poorly and way below par, but knowing the players as I do, they will endeavour to correct that today.

A constant intensity in all aspects of their play is needed and this will certainly ensure an opportunity to dethrone current champions, Kerry in three weeks' time.

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