Monday 11 December 2017

Kevin McStay: Momentum now lies with Mayo for replay

Cillian O’Connor’s consistency with the placed ball was key to Mayo’s comeback
Cillian O’Connor’s consistency with the placed ball was key to Mayo’s comeback

I think when both teams get an opportunity to reflect on yesterday's enthralling events in Croke Park, it will be Mayo that will feel that they have the momentum to succeed in next Saturday's replay.

To come back from seven points down with all hope seemingly gone tells you everything that you need to know about the courage and mental fortitude that is a feature of this football team.

Of course, they were assisted by what looked a relatively soft penalty awarded in their favour by Joe McQuillan. But in fairness, Dublin's penalty in the first half was for a foul committed outside the square so the decisions possibly balance each other out, something which may have been in the back of his mind at the time.

The manner in which Cillian O'Connor converted the penalty highlighted his calmness and assuredness of touch and his conversion rate from placed balls was a feature of a game that failed to reach any great levels of quality despite the obvious dramatic conclusion.

The reason for the sloppiness and massive emphasis on physicality is hard to fathom given that we are dealing with two teams that prefer to place a positive on attacking play but it appeared that the tension of a semi-final stifled the sides to a degree.

Let us not forget that both teams lost semi-finals 12 months ago and the determination not to fall again was a contributory factor to the negativity that was on show for large parts of the game.

Dublin's discipline, or lack thereof, was unusual to witness given that under Jim Gavin's management Dublin have improved significantly in that regard, but there was a return to some fairly unpleasant incidents with Philly McMahon very fortunate to have lasted the 70 odd minutes.

Of course, the off-the-ball stuff was not exclusively Dublin's doing, so in that regard I believe that McQuillan had a fairly competent display and he got most of the decisions correct, the penalties notwithstanding.

In addition to their discipline, Dublin will be very disappointed with how they played with very few of their players reaching the standard that we have become accustomed to and Stephen Cluxton was one player who suffered more than most.

Errors have crept into his game of late and he doesn't seem to be playing with the confidence that has been a hallmark of his distinguished career.


Apart from Ciarán Kilkenny, who had an excellent first half, very few players shone in a blue jersey and I think Mayo had better individual performances over the 70 minutes with Rory O'Carroll's injury a big loss for Dublin given his physicality.

Mayo will have their own regrets too and I cannot quite fathom why they didn't place more pressure on Dublin's kick-outs until late in the game.

The black cards received by Michael Darragh Macauley and Denis Bastick left Dublin horribly exposed in that area and I would assume that Mayo will adopt a more attacking philosophy on his kick-outs in five days' time. As a consequence, I expect Barry Moran to feature more prominently next Saturday and I was surprised that it took so long for him to be sprung from the bench.

Another change that I would anticipate is that David Drake will not start next week as that late switch just did not work and he was fortunate to escape a black card for his trip on Paul Flynn that led to the penalty.

However, apart from that, Mayo will feel quietly confident of getting the job done next week especially as Dublin will probably be without the suspended Diarmuid Connolly and Dublin looked to be struggling for fitness in the closing stages.

Of course, Kerry could well be the real winners in terms of the destination of the Sam Maguire as they'll get another opportunity to see their final opponents in next week's replay, while whoever comes through next Saturday will have one less week of preparation ahead of the All-Ireland final.

If Dublin are to prevail next week, they will need to address the number of scores that they conceded from frees and that is something that could prove difficult to rectify in such a short period of time.

Similarly, Mayo will need to find a greater return from open play with their first score from a forward from play arriving through Diarmuid O'Connor as late as the 39th minute.

I suppose that statistic more than any other highlighted the tension and nerves that were a feature of the game. Hopefully, there won't be a repeat on Saturday and we should see a more open and enterprising affair.

Who look most likely to win is hard to quantify as there are so many factors to ponder over the week but Mayo are without doubt in the driving seat and they should take confidence from their ability to punch consistent holes in the Dublin defence at the end.

They are two well-conditioned teams so fatigue shouldn't be a factor next week. Psychologically, though, Mayo look in far better shape and although the replay gives both sides an opportunity to redeem themselves, I would expect Mayo to carry on the momentum from the final stages and give an improved - and ultimately winning - performance.


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