Ciaran Whelan: Comfort zone was worst place for Mayo and Dublin struck
Read Ciaran Whelan's exclusive column every Friday in The Herald
It is hard not to feel for the Mayo footballers this week. Losing All-Ireland semi-finals is a tough business. Particularly when the comfort offered from sympathisers is based around the opinion that it was a great game that will be remembered for years.
The 2006 All-Ireland semi-final springs to mind for me when in the aftermath many waxed lyrically about the game and how it would go down in history as one the great games in modern times.
The Mayo players this week will look for the nearest rock to crawl under and will seek comfort in their team-mates' company.
Day by day the pain will ease slightly but it will be that pain that will be needed to ultimately drive this group of players on. The post mortems will continue in Mayo right through the winter and the first league game for the players at this time will seem an like an eternity away.
For Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, the next couple of weeks are probably the most important two weeks of their tenure. Year one for inter county managers can be considered the honey moon period. Players will engage and buy into their manager's approach and philosophy.
Doubts can linger after heavy defeats and some players thoughts can be influenced by outsiders. Small cracks can easily develop into fractures if let fester. Holmes and Connelly may not have had their best day at the office on the side line last Saturday and the benefit of hindsight will throw up all the perfect answers and criticisms.
Accountability is important within any group after a heavy defeat. Responsibility must be accepted by management and players, even if it is hard to take. Good managers will ensure they shoulder most of blame but also draw some honesty from their players.
Mayo went out last Saturday with a positive approach to win the game but they may just have lost that game the previous weekend. They left headquarters after the drawn game full of confidence and maybe a small bit of complacency kicked in. They may have underestimated the basic levels of improvement that were always going to be evident in the Dublin team.
On the basis of the second half in the drawn game, they trusted that their team could outscore Dublin. The trusted a potential midfield platform would give them enough scoring chances. They trusted that a combination of a running game and long quality ball to Aidan O'Shea would work.
Dublin outsmarted Mayo in most of these key area's over the 70 minutes. Cluxton's kick outs were immense. Brian Fenton came of age as a top class midfielder. The Dublin full back line controlled the aerial exchanges with O'Shea and Cian O'Sullivan excelled in his role in front of the full back line once again.
I have no doubt half time did not help Mayo's cause in any shape or form. At 0-10 points each they still believed they were in pole position. The same pre-match messages were no doubt rolled out. There was no chance for a halftime kick in the arse to knock the lads into shape. The message was probably more along the lines of "these lads could not cope with us last week in the second half last week so when we get on top they will have no answers"
So duly Mayo kicked for home and put themselves in a match-winning position after 50 minutes of play with a four-point lead.
Then it was time for "shock and awe". Dublin get one goal and before Mayo got their breath, the net rattles again. This was not part of the plan and their heads were in a spin.
It is very easy to point to that four-point lead that Mayo and criticise.
"With a lead like that in a big game why did they not just shut up shop and ensure Dublin did not score goals . . . where was their sweeper . . . same old Mayo, conceding goals". A snap shot of the arrows thrown in their direction this week. Isn't hindsight a great tonic?
Four points up with 20 minutes to go and you sit back with a sweeper and invite Dublin to attack you at will? Sounds good but I am not so sure.
I would give the management team the benefit of the doubt that if Mayo had put a lead of five or six points on the board, they would have been smart enough to protect the goal for the last 10 to 15 minutes.
Only they themselves know if a change in tactics was pending in the minutes Dublin took control and these are the questions they as a group will need to deal with.
For me, the problems with Mayo were too simplistic. The work-rate of their front six forwards was not good enough and they failed to press Dublin or track runners when building from the back. They as a unit had slipped into their comfort zone, probably through complacency.
As the game progressed, the writing was on the wall as Dublin had created overlaps all through the game which eventually left their defenders as sitting ducks.
It is an easy process to kick a dog when it is down, as many have done this week, but their contribution to the championship over the last few year s must be considered.
If we were to strip away the six big games that Mayo were involved in over the last four years (All Ireland Final 2012 v Donegal, All Ireland Final 2013 v Dublin, two All Ireland semi-finals v Kerry in 2014 and two All Ireland semi- finals v Dublin 2015), we would have very few quality games of football to reflect on.
Mayo will re-group and come back for more punishment in the hope that every dog has his day in the sun!