Subscriber OnlyGaelic GamesThe Middle Third

Darragh Ó Sé: Mayo exposed some of Dublin’s flaws but the champions will be better in Croke Park

Dessie Farrell’s team aren’t as far ahead of the pack as people assumed, but they will improve and it’s up to everybody else to keep up

Nobody is going to beat Dublin easily or by much – and maybe nobody will beat them at all. But what Mayo did on Sunday was show that there’s a way to go about it. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

We do a lot of giving out about football, in these pages and everywhere else. But there’s no denying that it was a cracking weekend. There were seriously good games all over the country and you could feel everyone knuckling down. The time for shadow boxing is gone.

That goes for the referees as well as everybody else. I’ve been banging on for ages about the time wasting that goes on when goalkeepers come trotting up to take frees and 45s. If a forward standing over a free took half as long as it takes Rory Beggan or Stephen Cluxton to stroll up and take one, no referee would stand for it.

I was delighted to see Conor Lane taking no nonsense in the Kerry and Louth game on Sunday. At one stage in the first half, Louth goalie Niall McDonnell was loitering on his way up for a kick and Lane decided he wasn’t having it and told him all about it. The more of that the better over the next few weeks.

Dublin and Mayo play out a scintillating draw as Dessie Farrell’s side go straight to quartersOpens in new window ]

Every game had that bit more cut about it, as if all the players and managers were deciding that it was long past time that we got down to the real business. You could even feel it with supporters – how many people in Mayo are on the bandwagon now? That game against Dublin will give them loads of belief.

READ MORE

You need two plans to survive in this championship. One for the games you play to get to play Dublin and one for when that day comes that you have to beat them. Kerry have been working on a plan all year. They could do with a stiff test before they get to play the Dubs, but they’re going along quietly and they’re probably happy enough.

I think Mayo gave lots of counties a bit of belief on Sunday. Dublin showed that they are a little bit more vulnerable than people thought. Nobody is going to beat them easily or by much – and maybe nobody will beat them at all. But what Mayo did on Sunday was show that there’s a way to go about it.

Your first job is to close down their top tier of players. That’s Cluxton, Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan. Fenton and O’Callaghan had very little impact on the game, which meant that Mayo were in with a shout. Cluxton and Kilkenny combined for the killer play of the game in injury-time – showing the Dubs are never going to die easy.

Cormac Costello is having a great championship and you can see he has the presence of mind to get out of tight situations. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dessie Farrell’s team don’t panic. That last point was a brilliant example of it. They knew that time was tight, and they knew the state of the game as well. If you watch Jack McCaffrey after he gives the pass to Cormac Costello, his hand is in the air, pointing over the bar. He knew that all Dublin needed was a draw, so there was no sense in Costello trying to win the game with a goal. Stick it over the bar and let’s get the hell out of dodge.

That’s a sign of a team who’ve been on the road for a long time and know what it takes to come out the right side in tight games. Think about the atmosphere in the ground at that point in the game. The Mayo fans were taking the roof off the place after Ryan O’Donoghue’s free put them ahead. All the supporters in the stands were on their feet. There was screaming and roaring during every phase of the play. But McCaffrey had the presence of mind to make sure that his man did the right thing, rather than go for glory.

Tactical breakdown: Mayo’s ‘game insight’ left them down at the vital momentOpens in new window ]

In fairness to Costello, he probably would have done the right thing anyway. He’s having a great championship, and you can see he has the presence of mind to get out of tight situations, no matter when they appear. The pass he made to Eoin Murchan when he was surrounded by four Mayo players in the second half was excellent.

You could see him thinking in real time – “there’s four around me here, there must be space somewhere else”. How often in the modern game do you see someone get their head up and play a cross field pass low to the ground to put a fellah in the clear? Murchan should have played the extra pass to nail the goal but you can’t have everything.

In saying all that, what the game told me most of all was that the Dubs can be got at. Nobody was predicting that they’d need a last-minute equaliser before the game, and Mayo were very clever in identifying their weaknesses and exploiting them.

James McCarthy can’t seem to get fit enough to play a full game, they’re missing Lee Gannon, and Fenton doesn’t have a nailed-on partner in midfield. All these things add up.

The big thing Dublin have going for them now is a return to Croke Park. That’s not just a Dublin thing – all the best teams play better there. I’ve said it countless times before, the ball moves faster in Croke Park, which means the more skilful players stand out.

Some of Dublin’s vulnerabilities were shown on Sunday. But they will improve, we can be sure of that. Anyone who wants to beat them will have to do the same.