Dublin can hold the Mayo threat
GAELIC GAMES:FOR THE past two weekends the consensus of punditry has run aground largely because it placed too much emphasis on what a team might do rather than on what it had done.
A similar dilemma emerges in respect of tomorrow afternoon’s second All-Ireland football semi-final between champions Dublin and Mayo before the first capacity (or thereabouts) attendance of the championship.
To date Dublin haven’t produced anything of the form that landed the big pot last year, whereas Mayo’s incremental progress has continued unspectacularly through retention of the Connacht title and a quarter-final pounding of Down.
Comparing the teams in the last round, you’d have to say that Dublin’s was the least impressive display of any of the semi-finalists. The more optimistic of the county’s followers believe that a significant improvement is on the cards, just as a year ago they sloughed off moderate Leinster form to go up the gears spectacularly against Tyrone.
The problem with that is that so far Dublin haven’t proved that sort of All-Ireland champions. To do that they need to emulate Kerry, who even in the years when they weren’t winning were there or thereabouts, getting to finals.
So far Dublin’s displays have been more reminiscent of Tyrone, who tended to blow out the year after winning the title. It can be argued that the champions did enough to retain their provincial title but with the decline of Kildare, Leinster wasn’t particularly hard won this season.
Neither of course was Connacht although Sligo gave a feisty account of themselves in the final and in the quarter-final Down’s defence was hospitable enough to feature in a Bord Fáilte campaign.
So neither side has been seriously tested but Mayo have evinced a far clearer impression of improvement and continuing development. The defence is practised in its tighter system and centrefield has been excellent, with Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea considered likely to have a significant edge over Dublin.
Some of this speculation is fuelled by Pat Gilroy’s continued preference for the less mobile pairing of Denis Bastick and Eamon Fennell, leaving Michael Darragh Macauley to roam free. In the incumbents’ defence they came up against another form unit in Laois’s Brendan Quigley and Colm Begley and acquitted themselves well while Macauley was the team’s most effective player.
Mayo’s worst moment of the championship saw captain and prime mover Andy Moran carted off with a serious knee injury. There is a belief that his metier of linking play and driving the machine is a more easily replicated function than that of a top-class shooter, but James Horan’s immediate reaction to the injury didn’t suggest that the problem would be straightforwardly solved.
A realistic assessment was offered during the week by the star of Mayo’s win in the 2006 edition of this rivalry, Ciarán McDonald.
“The loss for Mayo is massive. He is the go-to man. If a wing back looks up and there are two fellas coming around him I guarantee you, you can ask all of them, the first fella they’ll probably see is Andy Moran.
“And that’s the bit people don’t see. He stops turnovers. He’s constantly moving. Constantly bringing fellas into play. Whoever they bring in I wish them a great game but you still can’t replace Andy Moran. You can’t replace a lad who is not happy with one run to get on a ball, he’ll make 20 runs to get on a ball to make it easier for somebody else not to get turned over.”
Mayo’s selected attack has a surfeit of corner forwards and although Dublin’s defence concedes too many frees it won’t be as open to goals as Down’s, while Ger Brennan’s return restores direction and cohesion.
Good defences can’t completely snuff out opposing forwards but they can exert sufficient pressure to interfere with their ability to finish. Good forwards tuck away the opportunities even under pressure and Dublin look to have more of them, even allowing for the intertwined difficulties of an ailing conversion rate and the subdued form of Bernard Brogan, which may improve if his brother Alan plays as selected.
It should also be remembered that for all their fumbling and fostering in matches Dublin have never actually looked in any danger and have clinically responded to threats – keeping Laois at arm’s length, extending the margin against Meath and finding the goal to derail Wexford when a man short.
Were Moran playing, Dublin would need their A game; in his absence they may not and that’s their opportunity.