Bench has often proved decisive in Dublin-Mayo rivalry

McManamon was thorn in underdogs’ side but champions’ reserves look weaker this time out

As the Dublin-Mayo rivalry heads into a 10th championship meeting in 10 years, there is valid focus on the strength of the respective benches. This has been generated by the perceptibly weakening impact of the champions' replacements and also by injury problems in Mayo and the knock-on effect on the quality of James Horan's options if he needs to change the course of Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final.

The influence of matchday panels has been a constant since Mayo's win in 2012 – remarkably their most recent in this fixture, including nine league matches – and equally consistently a one-way street, as Dublin have always had more impact.

The only time for instance that the winners of the match didn’t get more scores from their replacements was in the biggest win of the nine to date, Dublin’s 10-point win two years ago.

As befitted a match that they had decisively put to bed in the third quarter, with an unanswered 2-6 in 12 minutes, manager Jim Gavin didn't substitute a forward until the 66th minute, Cormac Costello, followed by two further switches in attack in injury-time, bringing in Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly.


The zero contribution of Dublin's bench that day was slightly bettered by a single Mayo point, a free in the last minute from Fergal Boland.

Replacements played a role in Mayo’s win nine years ago in that not only did they outscore Dublin but there were eight substitutions overall, five conventional and three temporary, all different players – and all entirely within the rules.

The Gavin era began the next year and the All-Ireland was won after a claustrophobically tight match.

In The Irish Times, analyst John O'Keeffe identified the key influence after the 2013 final.

“But what really won this game for Dublin, yet again, was the strength of their bench. If anything Jim Gavin couldn’t get his five substitutions on quick enough, although in the end he nearly paid a price, as some of the injuries started to mount.

“Tactically, every substitution worked a treat, every single one of them making serious contributions. Eoghan O’Gara made a big difference to the Dublin inside forward line when he came on.”

The injuries included Jonny Cooper's concussion and nearly disastrously, O'Gara, who had done really well since replacing the injured Paul Mannion as early as the 16th minute but who popped his hamstring in the 53rd minute and only when gesturing to go off, learned that there were no subs left.

His injury happened in the lead-up to Dublin's second goal and went largely unnoticed. Had he been expecting his marker to leave him? "I was yeah," he said a few months later, "but he didn't. Keith Higgins. Maybe he thought I was codding him, whatever."

When the teams next met in 2015, it was arguably the closest Mayo came to winning. In the drawn semi-final Dublin shed a seven-point lead to an unanswered 1-4, including a penalty by Cillian O’Connor, and with five minutes of added-on time, the Connacht champions had momentum but couldn’t make it count.

The replay reached crisis point when Mayo had the chance to go five ahead after Paddy Durcan had kicked them 1-12 to 0-11 in front. James McCarthy's partial block on Lee Keegan meant the chance fell short and within seconds McCarthy reduced the deficit with Dublin's first point in nearly 10 minutes.

It kick-started an unanswered 2-3 in the next 10 minutes to turn the match on its head and put them five in front. The definitive Dublin sub, Kevin McManamon ended the match with 1-1 of a 3-15 to 1-14 win.

If Dublin’s display in the 2016 final was as bad as any undefeated team has put in, the replay showcased the most dramatic impact from a sub in the final since McManamon’s 2011 goal against Kerry.

Costello scored 0-3 from play but a substitution in the 41st minute told the story of a controversial selection, the dropping of goalkeeper David Clarke for Rob Hennelly, in order to improve the restarts. The replacement was an enforced one, as Hennelly took down Andrews for a penalty and was black-carded.

Connolly put the penalty in the net, setting the scene for Dublin’s win.

The 2017 final saw two forward subs, McManamon and Connolly introduced at half-time and both scoring in the second half, as Dublin turned around a first-half deficit to win by a point, Dean Rock’s famous free.

Kevin McStay, writing in these pages summarised the second half:

“For Mayo it’s good to be ahead, but they should be about four up, and Dublin still had a bench to run out – and Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly both had an impact. McManamon really took the game to Mayo, and Connolly kicked a magnificent point.”

What – or who – is likely to kept in reserve this weekend and will the trend be maintained?

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times