Saturday 21 October 2017

Eoin Liston: Moving O'Shea to full-forward could have given Mayo a lifeline

A devastated Aidan O'Shea takes a moment to himself on the Croke Park pitch
A devastated Aidan O'Shea takes a moment to himself on the Croke Park pitch
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

In the end, the best team in the land reached the top of the mountain. Dublin only played to about 70pc of their potential but still Mayo couldn't get over the line. That's what sums it up for the Connacht champions.

I have always, and will always, maintain that a team will not win an All-Ireland without a marquee forward. Yesterday, that man wore blue. Bernard Brogan decided it through his brilliance, and there was no Mayo attacker who was capable of doing that. Andy Moran had a great game, it must be said, but he didn't have enough support.

Naturally, I feel for James Horan and his team. But as the manager himself stated afterwards, their basics let them down. Mayo stormed into the game and got a great start. They got plenty of ball alright, but still never managed to lead by more than three points at any stage.

The ball going into the full-forward line was bad. When good supply did go in, it didn't stick. The decision to remove Alan Freeman so quickly was strange all the same. I watched him closely and he was working hard but just couldn't get on the ball. He was superb in the second half against Tyrone; maybe Horan should have given him more time? They certainly didn't have a player of his quality available to them on the bench. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. He had a decision to make and he showed great courage to do so.

But the big thing for me was why Aidan O'Shea wasn't tried out in full-forward, especially in the final 10 to 15 minutes? They had nothing to lose. Their goal came as a result of a high ball and O'Shea is a colossus in the air. If they had left Seamus O'Shea on the field and moved Aidan in, it could have been a different outcome.

Capable

Defeats like this are harder to come back from because, on reflection, Mayo will realise they could have done so many things to a higher standard, and more importantly, will know they are capable of doing so. It is fair to say only seven or eight of their players turned up to Croke Park and hit top gear.

Much was made of how Mayo would deal with the Dublin kick-outs but Stephen Cluxton never ceases to amaze me. The accuracy with which he finds his man is just phenomenal. Then there was the calmness he showed with his final free-kick, which proved to be the winning score. He along with Brogan and Cian O'Sullivan would be the three man of the match contenders in my book.

Michael Darragh Macauley will perhaps get a lot of the plaudits and deservedly so, but O'Sullivan's input in terms of hard running, breaking ball and work rate was priceless in the midfield battle.

It is pointing out the obvious somewhat, but Dublin's bench again showed how important they are to the set-up. Eoghan O'Gara, so often the creator of mayhem, actually brought a calming influence on their forward line because he was getting his hands on the ball and feeding the runners.

Dean Rock also showed his class with brilliant use of the ball, while Kevin McManamon was his usual bundle of energy. Denis Bastick and Darren Daly also deserve praise for their contributions.

What surprised me about the second half was how Dublin physically dominated. There were times when it looked as if they were bullying their opponents. Without going into too much about it, the referee Joe McQuillan did Mayo no favours as Dublin resorted to cynical tactics towards the finish with no great punishment.

The champions have been touted as the saviours of football, but still they resorted to the dark arts when they needed to. The rules allow it and it's going to be fascinating to see what happens with the introduction of the black card.

They can now look to the future with endless optimism. Yesterday, the three young guns of Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey all had tough days at the office. But they have, at times, lit up Croke Park this summer.

It's too soon to say they can dominate Gaelic football as I don't think that can be done anymore. But they would certainly believe that there are a few more All-Irelands in this set of players. Jim Gavin brought his philosophy and didn't once stray from that since the beginning of the year. It's been a joy to watch.

Now it is time to sit back and take it all in. The final itself was fitting for the summer as a whole. It wasn't a classic, but there sure were some edge-of-the-seat moments. Gaelic football is in a good place.

The Dubs can deservedly bask in their success and glory, the rest will go away and plot ways to take them down in 2014.

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