Alan Brogan: Perhaps so much went into beating Kerry that Dublin weren't in the right frame of mind for Mayo
Slippy ball is no excuse for Dubs but a dry replay gives more scope.
Published 22/09/2016 | 19:10
IT’S been bugging me since Sunday, so I went on to the GAA’s website to find out about the pitch in Croke Park.
This, admittedly, might seem a weird note on which to start a column four days after an All-Ireland final and just 10 before the replay, but it’s been that sort of week.
“The pitch is turfed with a custom turf specifically grown for the strength and stability needed for Gaelic Games,” I learned directly from source, GAA.ie.
“The pitch sward is 60% Poa Pratensis and 40% Perennial Ryegrass which gives the pitch exceptional stability.
“Strict pitch performance criteria are maintained and records are available for inspection for pitch hardness, traction, infiltration, soil moisture, ball rebound and shock absorbency.”
And look, mostly that “custom” turf is the best anywhere to play on.
On the warm sunny days we imagine All-Ireland finals are played on, it looks like a freshly-lined snooker table and plays like a dream. The surface in Croke Park is easily the best around….except, clearly, when it rains - as it has done for the last two All-Ireland football finals.
Now granted, we live in Ireland where the rain is discussed even in its rare absence and while the GAA tend to get blamed for a lot of things, I think we can let them off the hook with regard to autumnal precipitation in the Greater Dublin Area.
But that pitch, with its “Poa Pratensis” and “Perennial Ryegrass,” is the slippiest playing surface I know after rainfall and I’m not talking about a deluge either.
“Exceptional stability” on dry days only. Everywhere else, the rain falls, the ground softens up and we all get mucky. In Croke Park, the pitch stays hard.
That water sits on top, sort of like a layer of oil on which even a change of direction can result in a player losing their footing. And the ball doesn’t bounce. It just skids off the surface, causing the intended receiver to look a bit silly.
Not for a second that I’m putting Dublin’s poor performance down to this. Naturally, Mayo played on the same sward. But I wonder will we get a truer reflection of the teams on Saturday week if the rain holds off.
And the more I look back, the more you sense both teams were playing the conditions. Dublin kicked very little ball on Sunday and I’m starting to wonder whether that was the reason.
Their ball carriers coming from the half-back line rarely looked inside and mostly, their inside men hugged the corners, trying to stretch Mayo as thinly as possible for the cavalry to gallop through.
Mostly, they never even made runs, indicating they knew early delivery wasn’t imminent. That’s something I’d expect a big change from Dublin for the replay.
Knowing that group so well, they’ll be hurt personally by the performance they gave. Criticism outside the group doesn’t effect that Dublin team any more. But they will know they didn’t perform anywhere near were they can.
Jim doesn’t expect anyone to go out and give a masterclass. There’s no expectation of heroics. Everyone has a role, a function, key performance indicators.
And without knowing the specificity of any of them, there’s no way too many players hit their targets. The lads won’t focus on the output. They’ll delve into the process.
The stat about Dublin not scoring themselves until the 28th minute isn’t something they’ll care too much about. By the time the lads hit the training pitch tonight, the reasons why will already be interpreted and processes designed to address it.
Maybe the Kerry game was a bigger factor than we all thought.
Not that you’d accuse anyone going into an All-Ireland final of complacency but maybe, on a psychological level, they put so much into beating Kerry – a match they knew was coming from a long way out – they couldn’t quite get into the same frame of mind for the final. A mini psychological hangover.
The good news for Dublin is that over the last number of years, they’ve shown a handy knack of following a rare bad performance with a good one.
After we were beaten by Mayo in Pat Gilroy’s last game in 2012, we went an won the All-Ireland in 2013. The 2014 loss to Donegal spawned the current run the team are on.
The difference to those two games is that Dublin have a second chance immediately. They don’t have to sit through someone else lifting Sam Maguire and 10 months of slog to make amends. Usually, we never got a second chance.
The Mayo mindset will be somewhat different. They brought huge aggression and physicality to Dublin last week but I’m not sure if there’s anything they haven’t thrown at Dublin already.
It would appear that they felt they played well last Sunday. Dublin will feel the opposite. I’m not sure how that will inhabit their mindset between now and Saturday week. For Jim, it’s a big test of management.
They have two weeks but limited training time to turn a performance around in a very substantial way. To do that, he needs to make sure fellas haven’t spilled any confidence.
It’s an odd one. If one or two fellas haven’t done it, you can take quick and decisive action. If the majority of your team aren’t at the race? It might help that a few of the lads - Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn and Bernard - are now seen as being under pressure.
Knowing the character of these guys intimately, they will react positively. Like the rest of the team, those players have fought fiercest when their backs have been to the wall.