Thursday 23 November 2017

Hurt factor to help push Mayo home in a game of inches

All-Ireland SFC final
Dublin v Mayo
Croke Park, 3.30
J McQuillan (Cavan)

Damian Lawlor

HOW much of an understatement is it to say that Mayo need a good start if they are to have any hope of ending a 62-year famine for the All-Ireland senior title?

Even taking into account that they have frequently come from behind, or recovered from poor starts, over their past 13 games, and remembering that they ground it out so diligently against Tyrone after a horror start, a fast beginning is imperative today. So too is an impact from their attack – it took 32 minutes for a Mayo forward to score from play in the semi-final.

With this in mind, there was talk that Mayo might deploy a sweeper. It would go against their grain, but they've had four weeks to work on tactics and alternative game plans and they'll surely have something up their sleeves. You get the feeling that if they can get a firm foothold early on they will only surge in confidence.

The lateral short-passing that they have employed from time to time may actually be a necessity this afternoon to try and frustrate the high-octane Dubs.

Match-ups, too, will be crucial. Mayo will look to place Alan Dillon on Ger Brennan; they'll be worried that while Cillian O'Connor has plenty of rehab work done, he hasn't much ball work under his belt. So, could we see O'Connor starting, being replaced after 20 minutes and coming on again for the finale?

Both sides were exposed to an extent in their respective semi-finals. The Dublin defence was all at sea for the first 23 minutes and conceded 3-5 in that time. Mayo, meanwhile, lost a free-taker, hit balls off the post, had a goal disallowed and missed a 13-metre free. But they kept playing.

Dublin have had plenty to ponder, but that's not a bad thing. Brennan was in huge bother against Kerry and the Gooch led him on a merry dance. But he has shown enough in training to be selected in the pivotal number six shirt once more. It's a big call, but there were more players than Brennan struggling that day, it must be said.

The Dubs will look for goals early on and they'll try to rattle their opponents with ceaseless attacking from the first whistle. With pace to burn and a quality bench to empty (a bench that has contributed 3-15 this summer), they are well equipped to go hammer and tongs at the Mayo men right until the 73rd minute.

Bernard Brogan has shown in the past two games that he's close to being back to his best, Diarmuid Connolly had some dire moments against Kerry but he held his nerve to produce some diamond plays as well. It will be interesting to see how he is handled.

Andy Moran needs a big game at the other end with injury having robbed him of sharpness this season. But he is built for a stage like this and if he can weigh in from the start and pull the strings, his intelligence will have the Dubs in all sorts of bother. Mayo have quality reserves too – their subs have weighed in with 4-13 this season.

The kick-out battle will be fascinating. Stephen Cluxton, an injury worry last week, had an off-day last time out and if Mayo can close down the space for his kicks, and make him fluff a few more, it could affect his overall performance.

With both himself and his opposite number Rob Hennelly capable of finding the range from long-distance frees, neither side can afford to concede from within their own halfway line.

There is not much hype in Mayo coming into this game, and rightly so, for they face a far more complete team (in the attacking sense) in this year's final than they did in last year's decider.

Still, we feel the hurt of losing last season has to give them an edge. And in a game of inches that could be enough to get them over the finishing line ahead of a side that has been dealing with the All-Ireland favourites tag since the start of the season.

It could be a day for a Donie Buckley tactic, or an unexpected Andy Moran goal. It's going to take something out of the blue to get them home, but we feel Mayo's time has come.

Verdict: Mayo

Mayo (SF v Dublin): R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, K Higgins, A Dillon; C O'Connor, A Freeman, A Moran.

Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.


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