John O’Keeffe: there is no doubt now Dublin still have the hunger

Dublin used the six days between the first game and the replay to fix a couple of issues

Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea is shown a black card, an incident that came back to haunt Mayo as Michael Darragh Macauley joined Brian Fenton and began to dominate. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea is shown a black card, an incident that came back to haunt Mayo as Michael Darragh Macauley joined Brian Fenton and began to dominate. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

 

Should we have ever doubted them? We found out a lot on Saturday, one of which is that Dublin – even with two All-Ireland titles since 2011 – still have the hunger. There’s no questioning the character of this Dublin team after this performance. When they were four points down after 50-odd minutes there was no panic and they retained the self-belief in the process to win and, in the end, to win well.

I don’t think anyone can dispute that the better team won, and Dublin certainly used the six days between the first game and the replay to fix a couple of issues which plagued them that day: firstly, their discipline was vastly improved; and, secondly, there was far more intelligent use of the ball in hand and their accuracy of passing and shooting improved immensely.

In a way you’ve got to feel a little bit of sympathy for Mayo in again getting so far in the championship only to again finish up empty-handed for all of their endeavours.

Once again they were involved in an epic game. Once again they lost out.

The harsh reality, though, is that many of these players have been knocking on the door time and time again in recent years without attaining the ultimate, and there is probably a need for four or five or even six new players to break through in the way Diarmuid O’Connor has this year if they are ever to win the All-Ireland. They need fresh blood.

Dublin’s win was impressive for a number of reasons.

I think it is a sign of a excellent team that even when their go-to players – Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn – were off the pace and didn’t have their best of days, others, especially Paddy Andrews and Ciarán Kilkenny and the ever-reliable Bernard Brogan, stepped up their performances.

We’re so used to seeing Connolly and Flynn lead and drive the forward line but I thought Andrews showed real class throughout and five points from play tells its own story.

I couldn’t understand why Mayo didn’t push up on Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts. I know it is easier said than done to implement such a plan to counteract his kicks but Mayo made it far too easy and it’s a bit like reciting an old cliché in saying that Cluxton’s kickouts were again the platform for Dublin – especially from the hard-running half-backs Jack McCaffrey and James McCarthy – to launch attack after attack.

From Dublin’s defensive standpoint the return of Rory O’Carroll was very important and he brought an assuredness and presence into the full back line that was absent in the drawn game.

It seemed as if Mayo had no defensive strategy beyond adopting a man-to-man marking system. I know there was an attempt to have a sweeper system but it was naive and akin to putting the nuts and bolts onto a structure without actually tightening them.

Roaming freely

As it was Mayo’s man-to-man marking wasn’t up to standard, as we seen with Andrews, Kilkenny and Bernard Brogan turning their markers. Mayo were far too loose.

And yet Mayo did get into a position to win the game. I felt that Lee Keegan’s miss – another shot from Mayo that dropped short into Cluxton’s hands – was a turning point in the game. It would have put Mayo five points ahead and those poor attempts are just so deflating for players.

The game turned Dublin’s way after that, the black card handed out to Séamus O’Shea coming back to haunt Mayo as Michael Darraagh Macauley joined Brian Fenton – who gave a very much improved performance, winning possession and using it well in linking up with his forwards – as Dublin started to dominate that sector. This performance will be a fillip for Macauley after what has been a poor season by his own standards.

The Dublin substitutes were also important. I have a lot of time for Kevin McManamon and what he brings to a game. His contributions off the bench are almost legendary and he again produced the goods. He was excellent and the contrast between the quality of players Dublin were able to bring on compared to those that Mayo called on was significant. Dublin have real quality on the bench; they are genuine game-changers.

Fresh wounds

The harsh reality is that Mayo need to introduce new players into the system – and it could take another couple of years for their minor All-Ireland winners of a couple of years ago to develop. But that new blood is definitely needed; they need to find another few O’Connor. It takes a couple of years for players to acquire the physique required for the senior game. It is a step up.

Dublin now have Kerry waiting for them in the long grass but this display will have done them the world of good.

This was a performance that showed their hunger and their character.

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