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Tactical breakdown: Mayo’s ‘game insight’ left them down at the vital moment

The statistics told Mayo to drop off on Dublin’s last kickout - they didn’t; Tyrone love their attacking lanes; Galway’s issues with defensive balance

Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey wins a free from Ryan O’Donoghue and Cillian O’Connor of Mayo during the game last Sunday in Dr Hyde Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Mayo v Dublin: Mayo’s missed chance

It was evident in Dr Hyde Park how much failing to top the group hit Kevin McStay. He knows from last year the impact of a week off as they met a rampant Dublin in Croke Park after they dogged it out with Galway the week before in the preliminary quarter-final. His side were in pole position with 25 seconds left on the clock but the Dubs found a way to equalise, leaving Mayo with a tricky assignment, as a wounded Derry travel to MacHale Park.

McStay was clearly telling his players to drop and concede the kick out and get into a defensive structure but the message was not effectively transmitted onto the field. Dublin managed to slice open the Mayo rearguard straight from the Stephen Cluxton delivery which was fielded at the highest point by Ciaran Kilkenny.

He soared into the sky to catch the ball with four Mayo men around him and his perfectly-timed pass unleashed Jack McCaffrey, “packing” several Mayo men. McCaffrey worked through the open middle at pace, linking with Colm Basquel before assisting Cormac Costello for the levelling score.

Should Mayo have dropped back and allowed Dublin to go short with their late kickout in Dr Hyde Park?

There has been much talk of what teams should do in such a scenario – should a team contest or concede the kickout? The data from the 23 Cluxton kickouts prior to the final one in this game resoundingly suggests Mayo should have dropped off the kick. Of the 10 that Cluxton sent long, Dublin won eight of these and scored points off five. The context of the game, with only 25 seconds left, is vital information here.


Dublin managed to score three of the five points originating from long kickouts in possessions that lasted under 25 seconds. So contesting the possession was a risky strategy from Mayo, considering they only won two of the Dublin long kickouts up to that point and they didn’t score off either.

Add the further context that two of the three that Dublin scored in fast attacks were won aerially by Ciaran Kilkenny, who offloaded to the right man heading towards goal each time. The data from this game suggests that dropping off the kickout may have been the right move for Mayo.

Dublin only scored 0-3 from their 13 short kickouts won and two of these took over a minute to work to a score. The luck could have run out if Mayo had elected to drop or they’d have forced Dublin to be adventurous with a delivery.

Suggesting Mayo should have dropped off is very much hindsight analysis of course, but the top teams when it comes to ‘game insight’ would have done so.

Dublin were extremely successful on long kickouts against Mayo

As mentioned, central to this equalising point was Jack McCaffrey, who made a huge impact after being introduced in the 50th minute. McCaffrey scored a point in the 55th minute, as he kick passed down the line just outside the 65 to Paul Mannion, who was introduced at the same time as him, and he powered forward to receive the return inside the 13m line and fist over the bar. He also assisted that Costello equaliser.

But his contribution wasn’t limited to the attacking side, as he intercepted a ball aimed for Cillian O’Connor in the 60th minute which was the origin of a Dublin score. He also stopped a goal chance in the 69th minute, as he dispossessed Conor Loftus on the endline and was very unlucky to concede a 45 as the umpire incorrectly adjudged him to have been the last to touch the ball.

Much credit must go to Mayo in the game though. They looked to attack Dublin defenders individually on the arc and breach their defensive line. They did this well, particularly in the first half, when they got in behind frequently but did not punish fully on the scoreboard. The likes of Tommy Conroy and Aidan O’Shea breached the line and drew frees from Martin McNally.

McNally refereed the Ulster final last month, with both Armagh and Donegal aware of what he gives frees for and neither defence allowed lapses in the tackle that day in Clones. He tends to favour the attacker in contact situations and Mayo profited from this throughout the game as they got 0-4 from frees after attacking men around the D, while Ryan O’Donoghue missed another two frees. This was certainly a tactic from the start for Mayo, as they got more success breaking through and could have had further rewards if it wasn’t for a wonderful Brian Fenton block on O’Donoghue as he bore down on goal.

Mayo made hay against Dublin by taking on defenders and drawing frees
Tyrone v Cork: the numbers count

Cork will be disappointed to finish their group in third place, following their win over Donegal, although they could have got worse draws than the away clash with Louth. The aspect of Cork’s play which took down Donegal was their central turnovers and inadvertently it was this aspect of their play which led to them losing control of their encounter with Tyrone.

A turnover with overlapping numbers in the 43rd minute led to a long kick targeting Chris Óg Jones, which was cut out by Niall Morgan, leading to a rash lunge by Jones which earned him a black card and 10 minutes in the sin bin. The game was poised at this stage at 0-11 apiece but Tyrone managed to make their numeric superiority count as they outscored Cork in the next 10 minutes by 1-3 to 0-2, a gap which was never closed.

There were commonalities with the Tyrone points in this period. They attacked down Lane One on the left-hand side under the Tullamore stand for all three points, they kept their width and exploited some of Cork’s principles of defence (Cork coach Kevin Walsh outlined some of his defensive principles in his excellent book The Invisible Game). These attacks were kept wide until entering the 13, before Darragh Canavan cut in deep and scored twice. For their 50th minute effort, Tyrone again probed down Lane One, before recycling the ball back outside the arc quickly, and they got Morgan into a good shooting position to execute comfortably.

Tyrone use attacking lanes to maintain width when going forward

There is a lot of lamenting of goalkeepers and the impact they are having, or not having, on the game as they venture out from goal. However, few have the range of skills of Morgan. As mentioned above he cut out the Cork delivery and drew the foul and black card in the 43rd minute, while he also scored a point from play, converted another two dead balls and assisted his Edendork clubmate Conn Kilpatrick for a point.

Furthermore, he had hands on ball in play for another 1-7 of Tyrone’s scores. His speed, creativity and skillset on the ball sets him apart from others in the advancing keeper role.

Galway v Armagh: the kickout press

Moving from one aspect of the goalkeeper role to what is the most central role for the goalkeeper in the modern game. Galway really struggled on their own kickout in their game at the weekend, as the Armagh set-up baited Connor Gleeson into sending balls to contested areas early. Armagh secured the first three Galway kickouts, but failed to make any of these count on the scoreboard.

In fact they won four Galway kickouts in the first half and got a shot off all of them, but didn’t register a single point. These four misses, contributed to their low 55% shot accuracy in the first half with a considerable wind at their backs. Galway managed to get a handle on their kickout, but Armagh then mined 1-2 from Galway kickouts in the second half, including two short miscues in the final quarter as they put the squeeze on Gleeson.

Galway scored 0-7 off their kickouts and conceded 1-2 – a net return of two points from the 22 restarts, which is far from All Ireland material if placed alongside Dublin and Kerry.

Galway's restarts need to improve if they are to compete with the very best

Galway are certainly in the mix to be All Ireland contenders (if Damien Comer returns) and their defence is the meanest in the country. Yet they are frequently putting themselves under pressure with their own kickout, as was seen in the early stages of their Connacht final against Mayo, even if Mayo failed to fully punish these short miscues.

This is not laying the blame solely at the feet of Gleeson, there is a trade off in any team on defenders who are comfortable receiving ball and those able to defend as well as the Galway players.

Armagh's kickout press was ruthlessly successful against Galway

Armagh dropped off the final Galway kick out to protect their draw and top spot in the group, in direct contrast with Mayo a few hours later. The outcome suggests this was the right decision, but the data also suggested likewise, as Galway are slow and methodical in their build up to attacks and were forced to attempt a risky ball inside as the clock ticked down.

Galway will be disappointed not to have gotten the week off and you could see at the final whistle how much the result and topping the group meant to McGeeney’s men. However, Galway are likely to still have a considerable say in this year’s Championship if they can get a few things right.

Paul O’Brien is a performance analyst with The Performance Process (