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5 steps to All-Ireland heaven

Sport

HITTING THEIR GOALS Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan scores his side’s second goal past Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly during last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

We look at five key areas for Mayo to focus on in their ninth championship clash with Dublin in nine seasons

Analysis

Edwin McGreal

1 Kick-outs
THE All-Ireland semi-final was the first game all championship where Mayo won a lower percentage of their kick-outs than their opponents did at the other end.
David Clarke found a Mayo man with 63 percent of his kick-outs (15/24). However, Evan Comerford found a team-mate with 92 percent of his (24/26).
It’s a huge gulf, and it’s a concern that in their first game in Croke Park, where we expected the open spaces to suit Mayo’s short kick-out strategy, that they hit their lowest percentage in this year’s championship. While Tipp’s numbers were, by some distance, the highest a Mayo opponent has managed to retain on their own kick-out in this campaign.
Perhaps much was to do with the chaotic nature of a second half where the game was won: Mayo may have eased off and Tipp’ played with pride.
But it will be a big concern to James Horan that when Mayo went long to a contest, Tipperary won seven out of eight kicks. At the other end, the Munster champions won 15/17 of their own long kick-outs.
Those metrics are incredible for a game that Mayo won by 13 points.
The Connacht champions will need to make such long kick-outs as close to 50/50 as possible. What will they be working on in the run-up to the final to maximise their chances of retaining their own kick-out? It is an integral part of their game-plan.
They will try to get as many short kick-outs off as is possible but ‘intermediate’ kick-outs ( chips or dinks to around the ‘45), carry a huge risk against Dublin.
It is a huge battleground.
They will also hope to get some return off Dublin’s kick-outs. Easier said than done but Mayo would be delighted with numbers similar to the 2017 final when they won 82 percent of their own kick-outs while Dublin retained 76 percent of theirs.

2 Turnovers
WHILE Mayo did struggle on winning possession from kick-outs against Tipp’, they made up for it by winning a power of turnovers. Of their final total of 5-20, 3-13 of that was sourced from turnovers won.
It’s a trend in Mayo’s campaign. Indeed in their last three games, they’ve sourced 62 percent of their scores from turnovers (3-33 out of 6-50).
Some of those come from unforced errors, but many come from pressure applied by Mayo without the ball, from the full-forward line back. Indeed, Mayo have got a lot of joy from turnovers in the opposition’s half, a much more advantageous turnover than one in your own full-back line.
However, if Mayo fail to improve the kick-out numbers from the semi-final, they are going to need a superhuman effort to win the turnover ball they will need to be in the game.
While forcing Tipp’ into turnovers is one thing, Dublin is another. Mayo did it reasonably well in the 2016 and ‘17 finals but they were also able to get a good return on kick-outs.
And for all our talk of Mayo winning turnovers off Dublin, they cannot afford to cough up much turnover ball to Dublin either. Again, that’s easier said than done.

3 Defensive set-up
IF Mayo are to continue to rely on turnovers for possession and scores, they are likely to persist with a man-on-man approach.
If Mayo employed a full-time sweeper, they could virtually say goodbye to any hope of turnover ball and we’ve seen how important that is to them.
Dublin are just too good in possession to not make an extra man count in such a situation (the same goes for any red or black card Mayo might pick up, that would be a fatal blow).
James Horan may look to get players like Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin, Conor Loftus or Stephen Coen covering back from time to time at a time in a play where they are not involved in a press.
This ‘plus one’ defender is a more common approach to sweeping now than a full-time one, but it requires great levels of game awareness. We saw several instances in the semi-final where a Mayo ‘plus one’ player got back but far later than he could have, given how that particular Tipperary attack was developing.
Adapting to the situation of each and every attack will require an intense concentration and flawless decision-making in getting there and then taking up good positions.
Even at that, it will not always be possible to provide the cover in time.

4 Defensive match-ups
THE likelihood that Mayo will push up to force turnovers and potential delays in getting the ‘plus one’ in place means there will be plenty of times when Mayo defenders will be one-on-one with their direct opponents.
In 2016 and 2017, Mayo got their match-ups damn near perfect against Dublin.
There’s a feeling they may not be quite at the same peak from an individual defender point of view three years later, and we will find out if that is true, one way or the other, on Saturday.
For all of Dublin’s undoubted depth, it’s clear that four men are in need of particular scrutiny for match-ups on Saturday.
Brian Fenton may well be the best midfielder we will ever see while Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan are coming right to their peak now and O’Callaghan, given his age of 24, may have even higher to go yet.
Then there’s Dean Rock, whose ability to threaten and score from play has been often under-rated. Mayo discovered that in the 2016 and 2017 finals when he scored 0-7 from play in those three games and he has mined 1-5 from play in his last two games this year.
So who have Mayo in mind? Lee Keegan definitely fared better on Ciarán Kilkenny in 2017 than Con O’Callaghan last year. Chris Barrett could possibly be handed the job of being the paper to spoil Rock.
Will Oisin Mullin be the man for O’Callaghan? Or Keegan? Or will James Horan put Paddy Durcan back there?
We see it going along the lines of Keegan for Kilkenny, Mullin for O’Callaghan, Barrett for Rock.
Fenton could be the toughest ask and there are any amount of possibles, but we think the job will fall to Mattie Ruane who has many of the athletic qualities required but will also need intense focus and concentration.
At the other end, Michael Fitzsimons will likely pitch up on Cillian O’Connor; Eoin Murchan will pair off with Tommy Conroy for a battle of the speedsters while Davy Byrne or Philly McMahon will likely pick up Aidan O’Shea.

5 Scoring efficiency and the bench
GAMES can always take on a life of their own. An early red card, a couple of goals in the first half and the dynamic of the game changes considerably.
The key battlegrounds you predict in advance may not turn out to be as important.
But it is hard to see past the above four, with the addition of scoring efficiency being vital.
Based on Dublin’s four most recent All-Ireland final wins, Mayo need to kick in the region of 20 points to be in the mix to win this game.
To do so, they’d need in the region of 30 shots with a 67% shot conversion rate.
In 2017, Mayo had 29 shots, scoring 1-16, a shot conversion rate of 59 percent. To show the fine margins, Dublin had two less shots but scored 1-17, a shot conversion of 67 percent.
As Mayo have learned the hard way, it is one thing to push Dublin all the way, it is another thing to actually get over the line in a tight game against them.
There may have been a total of just two points between the teams in the three finals in ‘16 and ’17, but Mayo never fell the right side of things.
There was a sense that Dublin’s game management, combined with much more energy off the bench, were defining factors.
Competition has been very keen for squad places for Mayo this year. Does James Horan have more ‘oomph’ off the bench than Stephen Rochford had three years ago?
The availability of some/all of the injured trio for the semi-final — Bryan Walsh, Mark Moran and Fionn McDonagh — will be crucial in this regard. Darren Coen was the pick of Mayo’s subs in the semi-final with two superb points.
It will be also fascinating to see what plans, if any, James Horan has for experienced campaigners like Keith Higgins, Tom Parsons, Seamie O’Shea, Colm Boyle and Donal Vaughan.
Because if the game is there for Mayo at the second water break, judicious use of subs could be defining.  But first they have to put themselves in that position in the first three quarters of the game.
That will take a huge effort.

STAT ATTACK

92%
TIPP’ kick-outs that they retained in the semi-final.

3-33
TOTAL of Mayo’s scores they have sourced from turnovers in four games.

0-20
WHAT Mayo will need to score to win on Saturday, based on Dublin’s last four All-Ireland final victories.

 

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