Saturday 21 October 2017

Tackling the real problem

Dublin and Mayo games have provided some of the most exciting and positive games of football we have seen over the past 25 years and their contest in Croke Park on Saturday was another fine clash.

A number of regular players were absent for both teams, but the presence of so much new talent was a good sign for the two counties and probably contributed to a more free-flowing collision than we'd have witnessed if all the hardened veterans were in action.

Of course, some things never change, no matter what teams are playing or what the competition is. The quality of defending, in relation to proper legal tackling of opponents, was poor from both sides.

There was probably more justification for this from the Dublin defenders because that is the part of the team that has been rejigged the most under the new regime.

Surrendered

Certainly Jim Gavin can't be very happy with a back line that surrendered 16 scores to a Mayo attack missing Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and Cillian O'Connor.

The necessity to bring in full-back Rory O'Carroll from the start even though he had played a tough Fitzgibbon Cup hurling game 24 hours earlier indicated some concern straight away and, when play began, we understood why.

But Mayo's defenders are a fairly experienced lot and still conceded six scored frees as well as a penalty. The quality tackling which has been promised from Mayo this year needs to be implemented quickly.

Discipline was placed at the top of Gavin's agenda when he took over Dublin and here too a major improvement is urgently required. In their past four games, three Dublin players have received straight reds. The latest, Ger Brennan, can have few complaints and he will be lucky if the minimum penalty applies. Old habits in the physical stakes can be hard to change for some players but a red card is still a severe penalty, or at least it should be, but from Mayo's point of view in this match, it did not work out that way. Instead of going for the jugular when having the extra man from the 42nd minute – and quickly being boosted by a pointed free and a saved Stephen Cluxton penalty by Kenneth O'Malley – it was Dublin who took over this game and dominated the final quarter.

Bernard Brogan, who gave a super performance all through and scored 1-10, was always there to punish Mayo, who seemed to have no player capable of dealing with him.

As a result, we had another last-quarter flop from Mayo which, in conjunction with their late defeat to Tyrone, must have caused some psychological damage, despite the legitimate excuse of high-profile absentees. They did have plenty of chances to grab scores in that period but most were fluffed, raising some doubts about the overall quality of the Mayo attack.

But overall, this excellent game of football was of great use to both managers who learned a lot and have the capacity to rectify obvious deficiencies. Dublin will be concerned that only two 'new forwards' scored, with 2-11 of their 2-14 coming from Brogan and Kevin McManamon.

With three more home games in a row in Croke Park – versus Kildare, Tyrone and Down – there is plenty of scope for learning in the Dublin camp.

Irish Independent

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