Dublin’s variety off the bench should prove the difference despite Mayo’s upper hand at midfield
With neither side a stranger to the occasion, Jim Gavin’s side have more scoring power
There is pressure on every player ahead of the All-Ireland final but the likes of Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley and Aidan O’Shea of Mayo will feel it even more, having played so well this year. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
In a game of tight margins, the X-factor of those coming off Dublin’s bench such as Eoghan O’Gara and Kevin McManamon could prove decisive. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Everybody’s on the hunt for tickets. We say each September that this is the worst year anyone can remember for tickets. And it is. Last year you had two counties who hadn’t won the All-Ireland in decades, this year you have one of them coming back and then the Dubs on top of it. So nobody has tickets to throw around them.
Mostly, the players will be removed from all that. But you can’t escape it completely. Everybody has that one friend or family member who’ll get onto you in desperation. They know they shouldn’t but this is just too big a day to miss.
P Sé was the worst of them. No final week would be complete without him getting onto you and going, “I’m killed for tickets here, you won’t leave me down will you?”
He rang Tomás one year and said, “Tomás, it’s your godfather here. I’m badly in need of two tickets.” Tomás was ready for him though. “That’s right Páidí,” he said. “You are my godfather. Now when’s my birthday?” But Páidí wouldn’t be slowed down by that kind of speedbump. “Ah Tomás,” he said. “Don’t be petty now. We all know when your birthday is. We don’t need to be spelling it out.” Páidí got his two tickets.
He always did. There was one year he plagued me for a couple of tickets and he cried away about how there wasn’t a ticket to be had in the country. I heard afterwards that on the morning of the game he had 118 of them.
Mostly though, players will be left alone this week. They would have had their final A versus B game last weekend and management would have ironed out the gameplan. From here until Sunday, each player has to be concerned only with that gameplan and their part of it. They’ll think about it in quiet moments, it’ll pop into their head when they’re in the car.
There’s pressure on every player this week but it stands to reason that there’s that little bit more pressure on the players who have been outstanding all year. The likes of Aidan O’Shea and Michael Darragh Macauley will be feeling it slightly more than the rest of them. They’ve dug in all summer and come up with the big performances and the danger now is that they will feel that everybody’s turning to them to do it again.
The key for these guys this week is to concentrate on just being another player in the squad. You make it your job for the week just do go out and do the basics. If you have yourself all revved up to be man of the match or player of the year, there’s no better game than an All-Ireland final to be gone in a flash before you know it. You’ve got want to perform for all the right reasons. Do that, and you’ll give yourself a better chance of ending up a match-winner anyway.
This is a week for checking off in your head the things you are going to do in the game. You work through the scenarios. What happens if we take an early lead? Am I going to drop back a bit and protect my defence or am I going to drive on and try to kill the game off? What happens if we concede an early goal? Am I going to be the one to put my hand in the air and call for the next kick-out? You don’t decide that on the pitch. You decide it early in the week.
You do it for two reasons. One, there just isn’t enough time once the whistle goes. I’ve said it many times – no game goes by faster than an All-Ireland final. All your decisions have to be made that bit quicker so it’s vital you have spent some time early in the week going through as many different scenarios as you can. That way there’s no confusion.
You saw that in Dublin’s semi-final against Kerry. When Kieran Donaghy came on in the second half, Paul Flynn immediately dropped back in front of Rory O’Carroll. There was no discussion, nobody wondering whether they should or they shouldn’t. A switch that could have taken 30 seconds to organise took no more than five. Flynn just went back there and the Donaghy move came to nothing for Kerry.
The other reason you do it is for the player himself. I read somewhere last week where Aidan O’Shea was saying that he and his brother Séamus don’t decide beforehand who they’re going to pick up and instead they just let it happen. I don’t buy that. You have to have a focus for the week building up to a game like this.
Ready to adapt
Yes, things can change in a game and you’ll have to be ready to adapt. I used to set out to mark Seán Cavanagh only to find that Kevin Hughes had his mind made up that he was marking me. So be it, you just go with what you’re faced with. But you still have to make a plan. From early in the week, you’ve got to know who you’re looking to pick up. If nothing else, it helps you pass the time. It gives you something to concentrate on.
I do think the key area of the pitch on Sunday will be centrefield. That’s not just the bias of a former midfielder either. Dublin have shown signs that they can be got at in that area, good and all as Macauley has been. They pretty much have to start with Cian O’Sullivan there even though he was so impressive at centre-back in the second half against Kerry.
I’d say they’d like to play him at six because Ger Brennan has been taking on water in a few games now but I don’t think they believe that Denis Bastick has a full 70 minutes in him. The O’Sheas are such a formidable pairing – they’re strong in the air, they’re mobile and they have a good understanding with each other. So you would expect them to have the upper hand.
The problem for Mayo though is that they are going to need something close to a 70-30 shake in that area. That’s the sector of the pitch where they are strongest compared to Dublin so they need to drive home that advantage.
And they need to do it even though you can be sure Stephen Cluxton is going to seriously limit the amount of ball he kicks out into the middle. I’d imagine across the game, it will work out at something like one in four kick-outs will go long.
So the work around the middle for the O’Sheas won’t be about high catches, it will be more about tackling and covering and turning the ball over. That’s one thing Aidan O’Shea does really well – if he turns over as many balls as he did against Tyrone, Mayo have a great shot at keeping Dublin in their sights.
Mayo’s greatest weakness is still in their forwards. They might be sick of hearing that kind of thing but there are clearly doubts in that area. Alan Dillon hasn’t been firing this year – he’s scored just seven points in five games even though four of those games were turkey shoots. Neither has Andy Moran, who’s scored 1-3 since he came back from his cruciate injury. I know they’ve run up big scores as a team but I would worry for them on the basis that so many of those scores have come from their defence.
Although it was impressive to see at the time, I still think it was a bad sign that when they were in trouble against Tyrone, it was Lee Keegan and Chris Barret who had to come forward and kick the points that turned it around for them. What happens when those defenders are too tied up looking after the Dublin forwards?
How can Mayo be sure that the likes of Moran and Dillon are going to click? Okay, they’ve done it before but an All-Ireland final is the wrong game to be going into searching for form. If they don’t find it, Mayo are relying on Cillian O’Connor who can’t be 100 per cent right. Either that or they’re relying on the likes of Enda Varley and Mickey Conroy who just don’t look like they’re of the very highest standard needed to pull a team through a game this big.
The margins are very small here. The occasion shouldn’t be a factor since both teams have been in a final in the last two years. If anything, it might be more of a factor for Dublin since they’ll have four or five guys playing in their first final. But in general, it won’t be any great advantage for either side.
So in a tight game, you have to look at the X-factors that could decide a game late on. And the one thing that Dublin have is their bench. Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon are proven impact players. Eoghan O’Gara might not be just in their bracket but he still manages to have an effect when the game has opened up.
Rock has been brilliant off the bench all summer partly because he always offers something different to whoever he replaces. He’s actually come on for five different players in Dublin’s five matches – Paul Mannion against Westmeath, Diarmuid Connolly against Kildare, Bernard Brogan against Meath, Bryan Cullen against Cork and Ciarán Kilkenny against Kerry.
If he was coming on for, say, Mannion in every game, opposition defences would know what to expect. But when it’s different each time, he finds that bit more space. Add in O’Gara who is a different sort of threat and McManamon who is different again and Dublin have a lot of options.
Chasing the game
My worry for Mayo is that they just don’t have that sort variety coming off the bench. The likes of Conroy, Varley and Darren Coen are quite similar as players. Richie Feeney is different but you wouldn’t class him as a match-winner. He’s the kind of link-man forward who does the dirty work and feeds the scorers. If Mayo are chasing the game though, you can’t see him being the star of the show.
In the end, I’m going to plump for Dublin. It’s a fascinating game on so many levels and I don’t see it being one-sided. But based on their ability to change the pace and direction of the game in the last 15 minutes with those substitutes, I just think they will see the game out better than Mayo.
Now, about those tickets . . .