Tuesday 20 March 2018

Colm Parkinson: Westerners have skill-set and hunger to leave Blues in tears

This much we already know – Mayo have lost six All-Irelands since 1989 and Dublin haven't beaten Mayo in the championship since 1985 – so some unwanted record will be broken in Croke Park tomorrow.

Everyone knows about Mayo's record in All-Ireland finals. Excuse after excuse has been churned out to explain those six heartbreaking defeats. A silly curse. The hype in Mayo. Bad luck. Sendings off.

What is rarely mentioned, and what current manager James Horan believes, is that Mayo were just not good enough. He blames their skill-set for the defeats in the finals he played in '96 and '97, but believes those experiences shaped him as a manager.

This Mayo team works relentlessly on the skills of the game – kicking with both feet, blocking, tackling, catching and handpassing off both hands. In my experience as a player at inter-county level, managers took players' skill-set as a given, which is the wrong approach.

Horan has some big decisions to make coming into the final. Where he plays his captain Andy Moran, if at all, is a huge issue for the Mayo manager. Andy Moran is NOT a corner-forward. Corner-forward is a specialised position that suits an out-and-out finisher.


Moran is an all-action type of player who likes to get on the ball and make things happen, and it is difficult to do that from the corner.

Patience is vital in the corner because your possessions are limited and your score conversion rate needs to be very high.

Either play Moran centre-forward or play Enda Varley in the corner in his place. Varley's movement would cause Dublin's full-back line all sorts of problems.

I've heard some talk of Mayo playing a sweeper for the first 20 minutes to avoid conceding an early goal. I would be amazed if this happens. It would hand the initiative to Dublin, and remember – Mayo don't fear the Dubs.

Also, playing a sweeper would give Stephen Cluxton an extra option for his kick-outs. Mayo need to push up on those, something at which Kerry were successful, and force him to kick long to midfield, where the Connacht champions have an aerial advantage.

Another advantage for Mayo is their half-back line, which has been exceptional. Accounting for 2-11 so far, they can knock Dublin's half-forward line off their game. Half-forwards hate marking defenders who attack – give me a man-marker in the half-back line any day.

Concentrating on your attacking game is difficult when you spend half the game defending. Donal Vaughan's unpredictable runs from defence will be difficult for Ciaran Kilkenny to cope with.

On 'The Sunday Game', after Dublin's fantastic win over Kerry, Tony McEntee correctly pointed out that Dublin ran the ball in the first half and kicked a lot more in the second. However, I don't believe this was a tactical plan by Jim Gavin as Tony suggested.

It worked out that way because Dublin's best kick-passers were ineffective in the first half. Ger Brennan was being cleaned by 'Gooch' Cooper, Kilkenny was being cleaned by Fionn Fitzgerald and Paul Flynn was well marshalled by Peter Crowley.

In the second half, Paddy Andrews moved to centre-forward and got on ball and Flynn got into the game, so Dublin's kicking game improved. Dublin, first and foremost, are a kicking team. They like to hit Paul Mannion and Andrews, who show well, and work off that initial ball. Bernard Brogan plays a more patient game, hoping to get on the end of moves.

That's why I believe Ger Brennan will start. He will not have the same marking responsibility in the final as he did against Kerry and he can use his football brain to hold the centre and use his excellent distribution to find Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Kilkenny who in turn will look for the full-forward line.

Under Gavin's attacking philosophy Dublin play with nine attackers – six scoring forwards, Michael Darragh Macauley in midfield and two attacking wing-backs. It's great to watch. It's not that Dublin's full-back line is individually weaker than other sides; they simply receive no protection and are vulnerable to one-on-one situations.

One problem with having six scoring forwards is that all six want to score. The player in the best position does not always get the ball, and that's something Dublin need to improve on.

So who will win? The Croke Park factor is an obvious advantage to Dublin. What gives home teams the advantage is living in close proximity to the stadium, familiarity with the ground and surroundings as well as the majority of the support. The Dubs also have a better forward line with more scoring threats.

Mayo have the advantage in midfield, as well as a slightly better defence. They are the hungrier team and the hungrier team usually win the battle in the middle third, which is so important. The defeat in last year's final is driving them on too and the skills of the game, practised so diligently during the year, can bear fruit.

On top of all that is some logic my father occasionally uses – they have to win a final some time.

Floods of tears in Croker and a Mayo win for me....

Irish Independent

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