John O'Keeffe: Mayo can to bring Dublin to the end of their road

Connacht side have the work ethic and know-how to finally win that elusive All-Ireland

Aidan O’Shea of Mayo tackles Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny during the drawn All-Ireland final at Croke Park two weeks ago. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

Aidan O’Shea of Mayo tackles Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny during the drawn All-Ireland final at Croke Park two weeks ago. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.

 

After the drawn All-Ireland final I couldn’t help wondering about Dublin. They have been on the road now for a long time, demolishing so many opponents, that maybe it is catching up with them.

The Dubs success is largely dependent on a high-intensity running game, sustained relentlessly over 70-plus minutes, seemingly unbreakable due to the introduction of subs that all teams, including Kerry, have been unable to cope with. That enduring pace has been their chief weapon. But after the draw I felt Mayo had become the exception to Dublin rule. They are clearly capable of matching their intensity.

New generation

Brian FentonJohn SmallDavid Byrne

Kilkenny has made himself the go-to player, he sets up the plays now, dictates the tempo, especially at wing back when James McCarthy has been absent. It is not the usual Dublin rhythm though.

Mayo managed Kilkenny quite well by forcing him laterally instead of allowing him to orchestrate the direct, offensive strategy we associate with Dublin.

Bernard Brogan is suffering the most. The slower more predictable ball inside allowed Brendan Harrison, who had a fine game, get to grips with Bernard.

Maybe Brogan, Paul Flynn and particularly Michael Darragh Macauley are showing the effects of many long hard years at the top. They are certainly not the three influential footballers we have seen in other campaigns.

So I’m leaning towards Mayo. I just feel they are in a better place mentally. They can justifiably believe they were the superior team over 78 minutes of the draw. They can take heart from how they responded at the end, especially Cillian O’Connor’s three unanswered points to reel Dublin back in. And that was them playing it safe, without committing players forward as they adhered to a solid defensive structure.

On review they should see that was where their opportunity to win fell away.

Both teams will be annoyed with the number of unforced errors. The weather can be blamed but both defences were firmly in control. Just look at the amount of scoreless forwards from Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon to Aidan O’Shea and Diarmuid O’Connor.

Dublin’s full-back line was brilliantly protected by Cian O’Sullivan. Apart from Andy Moran’s goal chance, they looked impenetrable.

Treble marked

Jim GavinJason Doherty

Diarmuid looked tired after a long season that included the under-21s campaign. If he finds his form Mayo will profit immensely.

All this leads to Mayo creating shooting chances further out the field. They must show more composure, recycle that extra ball to create clear-cut opportunities. This requires patience and leadership.

An improved Aidan O’Shea performance remains crucial if Mayo are to finally win the All-Ireland. O’Shea is capable of being an inspirational leader. He was anything but 13 days ago. The solution, to my mind, is his role must be clearly defined. He is most effective switching predominantly from centre forward into full forward. When he drifts out the field he becomes a potential liability that can be exposed by Dublin’s pace.

Aidan didn’t lead the last day and even became agitated with the referee when a few calls didn’t go his way. That’s energy sapping behaviour that must be eradicated for Mayo to benefit from his enormous power.

That is how Dublin can be exposed but Stephen Rochford must also devise a plan to track Fenton’s incisive runs from midfield. Because that’s how Dublin will create a goal. The Mayo midfielders lack pace to stay with him so Kevin McLoughlin or even Donal Vaughan may need to pick him up.

Diarmuid Connolly is of similar importance. I could see Connolly best serving Dublin as an inside forward. Drag Lee Keegan out of his comfort zone at wing back. The reverse argument is that Keegan needs to contribute to Mayo moving forward. Perhaps both these tactical switches will happen and the pair will part ways.

Running game

It is the rhythm of Dublin that must be disrupted. Because all that passing over the shoulder at pace leads to frees within Dean Rock’s previously unerring range. If Rock rediscovers the accuracy we had seen all summer then Dublin can pull away.

Surely McManamon will have a better day or Paul Mannion, Eoghan O’Gara and Paddy Andrews will prove the difference late in the game.

Yet I’m still leaning towards Mayo. They have shown the work ethic and know-how to finally win that elusive All-Ireland. We know this Dublin team, as they showed when misfiring so badly in the first match, will not release Sam Maguire without a bitter struggle.

But Mayo, just.

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