I REALLY enjoyed attending the All-Ireland final last Sunday.
While there can be frustrations in the GAA regards fixtures, club season, rule changes and so on, still seeing what the All-Ireland final represents gives a feeling of pride. Amateur players playing like professionals, in front of over 82,000 people in the magnificent Croke Park stadium.
The game had been well reviewed by media and analysts alike since but a few things stick in the mind when looking back at what was an absorbing game of football. Similar to the replay versus Kerry, Mayo decided they were going to take the game Dublin from the start.
There was no playing safe here, it was about upping the pace and physicality and playing Dublin at their own game. It appeared in the first half that Mayo were the slightly fitter team with their extended run of championship games giving them a physical edge.
Mentally Mayo were very sharp which was typified best by the pace at which David Clarke got set for the kick-out, the attitude of the Mayo players in contesting both their own and Dublin’s kick-outs and the support runs been provided time and again for the man on the ball.
One outfield player who typified this positive attitude best was Kevin McLoughlin. He may be smaller in stature but don’t underestimate his pace and power.
What stood out most was when McLoughlin won possession multiple times in congestion he still always looked to get in head up and engage the Dublin defence. He was willing to go short and backwards if required but his first ambition always was to breach the Dublin defence.
Dublin’s early momentum was sidetracked by Jack McCaffrey’s injury no doubt. Thereafter with due credit to Mayo’s work-rate, it still seemed Dublin were being too cagey in possession.
In the semi-final versus Tyrone and the mass defence, Dublin had to be patient, switching the play until space opened up. Conditions were different last Sunday and you felt Dublin were slowing down their attacks unnecessarily. This suited Mayo as they marked a lot tighter than the Tyrone defence had.
There was some great movement from the Dublin forwards early on, all thinking and working as a unit. This movement regressed as the first half wore on.
This ended in a few speculative balls being played in Eoghan O’Gara’s direction which were easily dealt with by the Mayo defence. This situation was rectified in the second half with the introduction of Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon.
Mayo won six Dublin kick-outs after forcing Stephen Cluxton to go long. Mayo set up zonally but the thing is Cluxton still had options to go short on three occasions. He either didn’t see them or just made some poor decisions. A great goalkeeper but just shows he is human after all.
It was ironic then considering Mayo’s success on Dublin’s long-range kick-outs that in the closing stages Dublin forced Mayo to kick long, which resulted in two points for Dublin and then that vital sideline possession during the last minute of game leading to the final whistle.
Considering Mayo ruled midfield in the first half you would have to question awarding James McCarthy the Man of the Match award. McCarthy though was excellent at executing the basics when needed the most down the home stretch. Compare McCarthy’s two second-half points to Lee Keegan's miss from a similar position in the first half.
Players perceive at times to be a top player you must do extraordinary things all the time. Instead though borrowing a line from the All Blacks, it's about “doing the basics extraordinary well”. McCarthy steadying up, head down, committing to the shot and passing the ball over the bar.
Considering the athleticism on show it was still clear to see the importance of the kick pass in unlocking opposition defences. Both teams created some great scores through intelligent use of the kick pass. It can’t be your only tool but it can create that extra bit of space to make defenders uncomfortable and for good forwards to thrive on.
This was typified by Diarmuid Connolly’s display in the second half. Playing with great balance I remember one pass off his left down the line to McManamon and then the diagonal punt kick to Dean Rock late in the game. Both occasions led to Dublin scores.
For all the ability on display there weren’t too many other players who executed accurate kick pass or shots off both sides.
What players did display was ferocious work-rate and physicality. Not just in defence tracking and tackling but also in making lung-bursting support runs. As we saw in the closing stages, decision-making and composure will win you the game. To ensure you have that opportunity to win though, the present inter-county game demands you have strong, athletic, lean players with a massive appetite for work.
It is tough on Mayo having fallen just short again, but you must give credit to Dublin for the composure they showed in the second half. Amazingly at one stage, they had converted 11 shots from 12 attempts from play.
You feared for Dean Rock when he missed two early frees plus an easy chance from open play. He turned things around to score three frees and four points from play. It’s easy to remember the winning free but Rock converted a just as difficult free on the stroke of half-time to level matters.
Usually when the present champions fail to win the following year, hunger is usually put forward as a possible excuse for falling just short. Last Sunday the likes of Cluxton, Mannion, Rock and McCarthy came through difficult first half periods to lead Dublin home in the second half.
You can’t beat that winning feeling and at the moment the present Dublin footballers are addicted to it.
CONTACT: @paudiekissane www.pkperformance.ie.
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