FAMILIAR FIGURES Dublin manager Jim Gavin is pictured in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly during their recent All-Ireland SFC semi-final win over Tyrone at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
DUBLIN are the best Gaelic football team most of us have ever seen, but every team is beatable. Realistically though, Mayo are going to have to produce an epic performance to go through them and take their All-Ireland title.
This Mayo squad is about to face into the toughest game they have ever played.
The starting point for Stephen Rochford and his team will be to put themselves in a position to win the final. That’s going to require extreme levels of mental and physical toughness, and an ability to withstand the tsunami that is going to hit right from the throw-in.
There will be wave after wave of Dublin’s pressure and runners and tackles to be dealt with. Tyrone folded in the face of those waves in the semi-final, but I don’t think Mayo will.
This All-Ireland final is going to test every single aspect of these Mayo footballers. It’s a minute-by-minute match, where absolute concentration is required for every little thing.
If you switch off or tune out, it’s game over.
And there will be no half-measures; if Mayo are attacking, then everybody has to join in.
If Mayo are defending, then everybody has to join in and chase everything.
And if there are spells when Dublin have them pinned in, then everybody has to do everything they can to get the ball out.
It’s hard to come to many concrete conclusions about the champions based on the semi-final because Tyrone were so poor. One of the first mistakes they made, in my opinion, was deciding to press the Dublin kick-out. That tactic backfired completely.
Not least because when they pushed up, and Stephen Cluxton almost inevitably clipped the ball over the top and picked out his man, Tyrone’s defensive shape was affected.
Plus, they had to use so much energy to try and get back that they couldn’t set their defence properly and they ended up in the wrong places at the wrong times.
Con O’Callaghan’s goal came about as a direct result of this malfunction.
I was very impressed by the width and movement of the Dublin forwardline. They used every blade of grass on the field and Tyrone played right into their hands with the way they tried to defend their goal.
If I was in the Mayo camp, I’d give serious thought to giving Dublin the ten yards along each sideline from the 65m line to the endline. Mayo can’t afford to allow their defenders to get sucked out to those wide areas and leave the central channels open.
Mayo have to defend that middle tranche at all costs to stop Dublin’s strike runners coming through. If they’re able to kick points from out under the stands, then so be it.
What marks Dublin out from everybody else is their ball movement and patience. They go wide and then get diagonal runners heading towards goal at 45 degree angles. It’s very hard to defend against, but Tyrone players were so wide in the first place that they just couldn’t get in to defend the Dublin runners properly.
Ironically, when Tyrone did win the ball back they couldn’t keep it. Unlike Mayo, who work the ball upfield in pods of twos, threes and fours, Tyrone were sending guys off on solo missions, going it alone. It was crazy stuff and meant that Dublin defenders just swallowed up the ball carrier, turned him over, and counter-attacked themselves.
I can guarantee you that Mayo won’t make that mistake.
Stephen Rochford is so far ahead of most coaches that come up against Dublin because, right now, his Mayo team keep the ball better than all the other challengers. They’re patient in possession, they’re comfortable on the ball, and they have the strength and conditioning to hold off tacklers. They showed that against Kerry and that’s exactly what will be required again on September 17.
Gavin’s comments caught our attention
ONE line of Jim Gavin’s interview in his post-match press conference after beating Tyrone jumped out at me, and you can be sure it didn’t go unnoticed in the Mayo camp either.
“We turned up last year at an All-Ireland final and didn’t perform,” he said.
Two things struck me about that sentence: 1) the Dublin manager sounded very, very confident; and 2) it was disrespectful to Mayo in terms of how they performed in both All-Ireland final games against Dublin last year.
Maybe he’s confident that he’s got the right blend in his team this time around in terms of starters and subs, but it still sounded like a slight on Mayo’s two displays last season.
Within the Dublin camp there probably is an element of: ‘How many times have Mayo had a chance to beat us, and haven’t?’ I would actually suspect that Dublin fear Kerry more.
For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with Jim Gavin’s view.
Mayo’s ball retention and their ability to keep the ball frustrated Dublin in those two finals, and it seriously affected their ability to create scoring chances.
I’m delighted Dublin haven’t played a team like Mayo yet this summer.
The length of time of Mayo’s possessions against Kerry is a complete change of approach in terms of how they played two or three years ago, and their style of play has evolved game-by-game this summer.
I’ve heard it said a few times that Dublin are playing a different type of game this summer, but I wouldn’t see it that way. They’ve completely controlled every game they’ve played, and dictated how they went about winning those matches.
There is real hope for Mayo in the fact that Dublin haven’t been tested so far.