Sunday 26 March 2017

Martin Breheny: Mayo's final misery set to continue as Dublin's strike force sets course for double

Dublin have the best strike force in the country, with Jim Gavin in the happy position of having at least 11 top-class forwards. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Dublin have the best strike force in the country, with Jim Gavin in the happy position of having at least 11 top-class forwards. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Here's the script, as offered by results from the last five championship games between Dublin and Mayo.

Only one point will separate them tomorrow, with the advantage swinging Dublin's way on 2-13 to 1-15 scoreline.

Simplistic? Of course, but it's fun trying to weave the strands of a very close rivalry into an attempt to predict the shape of the latest encounter.

Last year's semi-final replay was something of an aberration, producing decisive winners as Dublin came from a difficult position (four points behind in the third quarter) to win by seven.

Two of the four previous games were won by a point, one was drawn and one produced three-point winners.

It shows clearly just how close the rivalry has been, something few counties other than Mayo can say about their experiences against Dublin in recent years.

For some curious reason, certain counties tend to develop a particular dynamic against each other and when it comes to Dublin v Mayo it's usually based on high-scoring contests.

Indeed, Dublin's 0-16 in the 2012 semi-final defeat was the lowest score by either side in any of the five games.

On that basis, tomorrow's clash will be another high-yield shoot-out, but then the question arises - can the past be trusted as a guide to the future?

In this case, probably not. Trying to out-gun Dublin in a high-scoring game would not be a wise choice for Mayo.

For while there is profit to be made by pouring numbers forward to take on the Dublin defence, it risks suffering serious losses if possession is conceded.

Dublin have the best strike force in the country, with Jim Gavin in the happy position of having at least 11 top-class forwards.

So whatever the cost at the other end, the best chance of beating Dublin is to cause as much congestion as possible in their attacking half.

Security

Stephen Rochford's comment that "if Dublin score goals against you, it's going to be a long day" suggested that he has tight security at the top of his tactical agenda.

He trialled it in the second round of the League in early February, funnelling back defenders and making it very difficult for Dublin attackers to get into the shooting zone.

Granted, there is little comparison between a league game in Castlebar on a cold, wet winter Saturday night and an All-Ireland final but it was still interesting to see how Rochford set up Mayo in his second game as manager.

Dublin won by 0-9 to 0-7 but it was a massive defensive improvement for Mayo, who had conceded 1-18 against Cork six days earlier.

Mayo have been defensively solid in this championship, even if the route featured a defeat. Still, they conceded only 1-12 against Galway in that setback and have since restricted Tyrone to 0-12.

Of course there's a big difference between the attacking fluency they have met so far as opposed to what Dublin will unleash, so Mayo's resistance systems will need to be extremely refined.

Even then, it's difficult to see them restrain Dublin indefinitely unless Connolly, Brogan and Co suffer a collective power failure.

One chink of light for Mayo is that Dublin's goal rate has dropped considerably this year, settling on one per game in five championship outings. That's down from an average of 2.6 in last year's championship.

However, the calm, structured manner in which they used point-taking to rein in Kerry after being hit for two first-half goals in the semi-final suggests that their self-belief is so high, they can escape from tight corners by whatever means are necessary.

Not many big games are lost by teams that score 2-14 while conceding no goals, as happened Kerry in the semi-final. It underlines the sophistication of Dublin's problem-solving techniques.

On the plus side for Mayo, they will have noted how uneasy the Dublin defence became once heavy pressure was applied by Kerry. Mayo had some joy on that front too in all of their recent championship games against Dublin so they know what's available if they get their attacking game working.

However, they are still left with the dilemma of how to lock the defensive bolts while keeping enough players forward to test Dublin's resistance.

It's going to place huge responsibility on Aidan O'Shea, Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor, Jason Doherty and Andy Moran, since Kevin McLoughlin is likely to spend much of his time as an extra defender.

Another bg question surrounding Mayo is their exact status at present.

The levels they reached in recent years took them close to the big breakthrough, only to come up marginally short.

It follows then that they must be better if they are to avoid an eighth All-Ireland final defeat in 27 years.

So far, there is no evidence of that. Indeed, there were signs of serious slippage during the defeat by Galway and while Mayo stabilised on the back-door circuit, they did nothing to suggest they have reached Dublin's level.

Gritty

Granted, they were well-structured and gritty against Tyrone but then how good were the Ulster champions? All the evidence is pointing towards a drop in standards in Ulster and Tyrone made no case to the contrary in the semi-final.

It's almost inconceivable that Mayo's dismal record in All-Ireland final could continue, since the law of averages eventually ends all sequences.

However, the case is not strong enough to back them to wreck Dublin's two-in-a-row ambitions.

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