My frustration will pale in comparison to what the Mayo players will experience if they come up short once again around 5pm Sunday evening. Mayo have been on an epic championship journey this summer but that guarantees them nothing in the final. Mayo must go and win it.
The positive of exiting the club championship is I’m now able to attend Sunday’s All Ireland Football Final. It has the making of a great contest from both a physical and tactical perspective.
Last year’s games had great physicality and work-rate but the quality of football was below what you would expect with too much poor passing, mistakes, and turnovers.
As well as Dublin have performed this year, Mayo are the one team who consistently put them to the pin of their collar and made Dublin look ordinary. Yes, Mayo may have failed to beat them, but still in their minds they think they can compete with Dublin. That’s the first step.
Two draws, a one-point loss and a seven-point loss in the four contests over the last two years. Dublin won the All-Ireland semi-final replay by seven points in 2015 but must not forget Mayo were four points up with 55 minutes played.
You must admire the will to win and competitive spirit in both squads. Both teams have experienced poor spells in those recent games but they have kept coming back and shown an ability to turn things around. Collectively this will only happen with trust, togetherness and leadership.
In dressing rooms we have heard the clichés of “it’s all about the next ball”, “sticking to the plan”, “keep working hard” well these teams epitomise it.
2015 semi final, Mayo six points down after 63 minutes and they brought it back to level. In the replay Dublin with one point in total from a free in 20 minutes and four points down with 15 minutes to go but turn it around to win by seven.
Last year in the final Dublin had no score from play in first 20 minutes but turned it around to lead 2-4 to five points at half-time. Yes they were two own goals but still they kept playing, working hard, backing themselves and creating opportunities.
In the replay Dublin started in a whirlwind and went up four points, it was Mayo’s turn this time to respond brilliantly with teams level by the 13th minute. Remove Rob Hennelly’s error and there was nothing in the game. Those recent stats alone is what makes next Sunday’s contest so intriguing and will provide Mayo with belief.
We are unsure still whether Tyrone played with the handbrake still on versus Dublin, or were Dublin simply that good. One thing for sure next Sunday is that both teams will show up. The teams may be evolving tactically but also physically they have been raising the bar year on year. The Dublin v Mayo games are most demanding games played in the championship over last few years.
What factors can tip the balance in Mayo’s favor this time?
Mayo have shown they can make life very uncomfortable for Dublin and a wet day would suit Mayo like in the drawn game last year. The intense pressure on Dublin resulted in 22 turnovers and some poor kick outs from Stephen Cluxton. Honest work-rate, organisation and disciplined tackling restricted Dublin to six points from play over the full game and nine points in total.
Consequently, I expect Mayo to set up somewhat similar to recent encounters with Kevin McLaughlin either covering back as a sweeper or else picking up Ciaran Kilkenny and releasing another Mayo defender to act as an extra defender.
I’d envisage Aidan O’Shea alternating between centre-forward and full-forward. This will enable them to get the most from O’Shea as too much tracking and defending in the middle eight can take away from his overall impact. O’Shea has shown great leadership all summer but he still is a weakness in Mayo’s transition from attack to defence.
Mayo will need Cillian O’Connor’s free taking to improve for Sunday. This year his conversion from far out frees is down to 35%. In comparison, Dean Rocks conversation rate is at an impressive 75% from long range and 96% overall. This can make a major difference in a tight game.
The full-back position could be seen as a weakness for Mayo. Aidan O’Shea, Donal Vaughan and Ger Cafferky have played there in recent games and positioning any of those players at full back again would provide an advantage to the Dubs. I’d envisage Keith Higgins going to full-back with Paddy Durcan starting in the corner on Paddy Andrews.
Diarmuid Connolly may not start for Dublin, if this is the case it could allow Lee Keegan to influence the game more from an attacking sense. Pushing Keegan up on Ciaran Kilkenny would pose a different challenge to Dublin.
Mayo I expect will alternate from a full court press to fifteen men drifting behind to play to stifle Dublin’s attacks. Dublin have not been tested properly yet this year while Mayo have been on an upward curve. This could give Mayo an advantage at the start.
Jim Gavin doesn’t give much away but interestingly mentioned recently that we didn’t see the real Dublin in the final last year. Gavin felt the team weren’t as focused as he would expect. Maybe that was the result of being the champions.
Dublin looked very focused versus Tyrone three weeks ago for sure and I expect the same on Sunday. This combined with greater panel strength I feel will make Dublin champions once again.
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