Thursday 29 September 2016

Alan Brogan breaks down why Dublin failed to fire in All Ireland final draw

Read Alan's column every week in the Herald

Alan Brogan

Published 19/09/2016 | 19:15

Cillian O'Connor of Mayo kicks the equalising point near the end of the All Ireland final
Cillian O'Connor of Mayo kicks the equalising point near the end of the All Ireland final

What a crazy game. A draw, two own goals and a bag full of regrets for both teams.

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We’ve become so used to Dublin performing at such a high level, it’s hard to make head or tail out of how they played yesterday.

It might have something to do with their tactical mindset.

When you come up against a version of a blanket defence in every important game you play, players can be preoccupied with the mechanics of breaking it down – hard running and keeping possession.

Dublin were a bit too conservative in that regard yesterday.

Too much of what they did was aimed at trying to keep the ball rather than really attacking Mayo’s defence. A lot of forwards lost their individual battles, but if the ball had come a bit quicker, it might have been a different story.

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Frequently, there was space around the Mayo half-back line behind their cover, but we didn’t see enough of the players breaking from there into space, demanding the ball, and the slick interchange between forwards that Dublin do so well.

On a very basic level, they didn’t kick the ball enough either. Maybe it was because of the weather, but it came across as a very one-dimensional performance, where plan A, B and C was to run the ball.

For all that, it very nearly won them the game. But even if Cilian O’Connor had missed the late chance and Dublin hung on, we wouldn’t be remembering it as one of the great All-Ireland winning displays.

Don’t underestimate the influence of the weather, though.

I know from experience that the pitch at Croker is different to other pitches.

It’s big and lush and great to play on when dry, but whatever type of grass they have on it is seriously slippy when it rains.

If you’re expending energy into making sure you don’t fall every every time you turn, you’re bound to make mistakes. Yesterday, we had a shed load of them from both sides.

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Poor decision-making too, typified by Aidan O’Shea’s choice to shoot from a ridiculous distance late on rather than recycle the ball and work it forward.

And in hindsight, Diarmuid Connolly’s decision to shoot from that sideline, when Ciarán Kilkenny was trying to convince him to just keep possession, was probably the wrong one.

At that stage, scores were at a premium and for all Dublin’s obsession with possession, they needed it then.

But even still, once the board went up for injury-time, it seemed as though they were trying to see the time out.

They were intent on running down the clock, rather than prodding Mayo for another opening.

Mayo will reflect on a weird one for them.

The two goals they conceded were obviously seriously unfortunate and they showed great character. Firstly, to get themselves level just after half-time and then, ultimately, to force the draw from three off the lead with normal time almost up.

But still, they had the benefit of coming up against a sub-standard Dublin display, but still never managed to win.

They couldn’t get over the line and they’ll know Dublin won’t be nearly as far off their game in less than two weeks. Dublin will focus very much on themselves now. Jim, his management team and all the players will be acutely aware that they have everything that they need to win that replay inside the four walls of the Dublin dressing-room.

They’ll be more critical of themselves than anyone else could possibly be and, in truth, they’ll probably be a small bit relieved to have gotten away with a display like that and still have the chance to win this year’s All-Ireland.

There’s no great need for dramatic surgery. It’s unlikely we’ll see a raft of players dropped or even major adjustment to how they play.

Little tweaks and a collective improvement will be enough next time out and they’ll be more sure of that when they review this match over the coming days.

For all the back-to-back talk and the shot at immortality, Dublin will be hell-bent on simply not performing that poorly again on October 1.

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