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Thursday 18 September 2014

Eugene McGee: Mayo now must prove awesome display was no flash in the pan

Published 02/04/2012 | 10:09

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Conor Mortimer tries to get past Thomas Quinn.

So, why is Paddy Power -- a man not usually associated with charitable donations to punters -- quoting Mayo at odds of 16/1 to win the Sam Maguire Cup, with defending champions Dublin at 7/2?

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After all, Mayo annihilated the champions in Castlebar on Saturday night with an avalanche of spectacular scores from all angles and distances.

They shoved Dublin players all over the field in personal challenges and gave the visitors a lesson in how to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and never let go until the final whistle goes. That's how you beat opponents by 12 points pulling up.

It was all very impressive for the 10,153 supporters who got free admission into the stadium.

But, before you rush to the bookies this morning, consider a few things. This, after all, is the Mayo football team, the past masters at choking on big occasions -- as their All- Ireland record for the past 61 years testifies.

Evaporate

Mayo have often beaten Dublin and all the other top teams, only for their supporters to see all hopes evaporate in the next game. Even in the current league, they've lost three successive games, two of which were also played in Castlebar.

So, maybe we are entitled to take this amazing performance by Mayo with a grain of salt. We have seen it all before at all age groups.

Yet, so well did this set of Mayo players perform that we must step back from the usual glib comments about 'great' Mayo displays and consider if this really is the start of something special.

The short answer is that it is too early to tell because for a team to have real All-Ireland aspirations, there must be consistency over a few years, as was the case with recent winners of the Sam Maguire such as Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Tyrone.

The present Mayo team, under manager James Horan, have not yet displayed that consistency.

Failing to win three league games in a row is not encouraging. But when you see the absolute slaughtering Mayo handed out to Dublin, you have to admit that there is huge amount of talent in this team.

What's more, they played real championship-style football in thrashing the Dubs -- they were hard, tough, courageous and stylish.

Some of the scores taken by Michael Conroy, Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and Andy Moran were out of the top drawer, while the defensive skills of centre half-back Donal Vaughan was the lynchpin of a very solid back-line, with Vaughan also charging upfield to score two fine points after half-time that really killed Dublin off as it left Mayo 0-16 to 0-5 ahead in the 38th minute.

If you wanted to nit-pick, you could point out that Mayo scored only four points, two from play, in the final 34 minutes of the game. Some other teams with such possession during that time would have slammed in another seven or eight scores.

The fact that Mayo did not even look like scoring a goal with all the possession they had, and with extra players in the second half, is also a sign that a more ruthless streak is required if they are to progress.

The Dublin followers who were not in Castlebar will be wondering what went wrong and will be hoping that there is a simple explanation, like another descent of fog in the Mayo half of the field that prevented Dublin from seeing their hosts' goalposts, but sadly for them, there is no such excuse.

This was one of the worst performances of the past decade from Dublin. They had only about two-thirds of their All-Ireland team in action, but that was only part of the reason they lost so heavily.

All the things that were used so successfully by Dublin last year were abandoned in this game, though we should also acknowledge that Mayo thwarted their opponents in every area where Dublin are normally dominant.

The most glaring example of this was in relation to Dublin kick-outs, of which Stephen Cluxton had around 30 during the game.

Astonishingly, hardly any of those were won by Dublin players, regardless of whether Cluxton went long or short with his kicks.

In the traditional kick-outs to the midfield zone in particular, Mayo completely dominated, either by clean catching or by guaranteeing possession off breaking balls.

It was this which gave Mayo almost total control of possession in the first half and led to their 13 points before the interval.

It was little better after the break for Dublin, when red cards for Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly meant the visitors became completely starved of possession apart from scraps dropped from the Mayo table. Dublin seemed lethargic and often uninterested, as shown by their players losing all the breaks and also by a huge amount of indiscipline from several players.

Clearly, Pat Gilroy needs to buy a good whip and apply it ruthlessly because Dublin are making far too many lazy and borderline 'tackles' that are proving very costly in this league.

But that is something that can be sorted out very quickly and I have no doubt it will be -- as will many of their problems in attack when Alan and Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara return.

Mayo's final league game against Kerry will be very informative. Mayo really need to win this game -- firstly to have a chance of getting into the semi-finals, but more importantly to show that they can achieve some all-important consistency.

Can they come away with victories over the top two teams in the country? That's the crucial test.

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