Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 25 February 2018

Rachel Wyse: Dubs will find a way to reach the summit

Greater firepower of Gavin's troops destined to deny Mayo in classic final

Paul Mannion scores Dublin’s first goal past Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy during their high-scoring semi-final victory
Paul Mannion scores Dublin’s first goal past Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy during their high-scoring semi-final victory

For once, the stars of the sporting sky have aligned. The punter has seen his wish come true. In the early days of our hazy summer, a Dublin and Mayo clash was touted as the dream All-Ireland football final for 2013.

Tomorrow the dream becomes a reality. Will it live up to expectation? Probably. Finals are unique for a host of reasons, not least the risk versus reward factor, so no one can be definitive on how entertaining a decider like this will be.

But I have hope, lots of hope. It's based on instinct – not mine but that of Dublin and Mayo. Both teams are a throwback to days when a bigger onus was placed upon getting scores rather than suppressing the opposition. Yes they have a game plan, yes they do have tactics and yes defending is important but, fundamentally, Jim Gavin and James Horan subscribe to a philosophy propped by adventurous, attacking football.

They encourage their players to take risks and facilitate an environment where creativity is valued. The fear of losing isn't sufficiently consuming for these men to betray their instincts and beliefs. They know the stakes but the mind remains unstifled. The players are granted a freedom.

In a business where winners take all, those who occupy the bainisteoir chairs at 3.30 tomorrow are men of great courage. We should celebrate them and their approach, and promote the game on their terms.

Some will say they have talented players to adopt such methods but, if a manager is not initially of this mind, even with time and effort there is never any chance he will coach or help a player to develop in a way that will see him flourish in such a fashion. It is a welcome feeling to be looking forward to a Gaelic football match.

SHROUDED

In recent years too many matches on the biggest of GAA stages have been shrouded in negativity. I will be amazed if the 2013 final is an addition to that forgettable collection. Kerry and Dublin's semi-final clash was a timely intervention on many fronts. No question it was game of the year, even game of the decade and, for some, game of their lifetime. The occasion reaffirmed and reminded just how good a game Gaelic football can be.

Thankfully there is a real prospect of this final following suit. People will be entertained for the right reasons. And largely because of their performance in that remarkable semi-final, I believe tomorrow will be Dublin's day.

As a Dublin supporter I was anxious before the Kerry match. Time tells a remarkable story about the feats of Kerrymen in Croke Park and, irrespective of their form, the prospect of facing the Dubs at Croke Park was inevitably going to rile and inspire proud Kingdom men. They didn't disappoint. At times Kerry were awesome, but Dublin were better.

For all the brilliance of Colm 'Gooch' Cooper, the ó Sé brothers and James O'Donoghue, Dublin found a way to win. We had much to reflect upon in the aftermath of an epic encounter but the outstanding thought to linger was that this Dublin team is simply not going to entertain defeat in 2013.

Despite all Kerry threw at Gavin's men, they never relented. The genius of the Gooch sent numerous shockwaves to the core of his opponents but this Dublin outfit never lost focus. The message was loud and clear: somehow, some way as a collective force Dublin will find a way to reach the summit and return Sam to the capital.

They appear prepared for any eventuality. Tomorrow will prove the ultimate test of Dublin's desire as they meet a team whose body language all year has been remarkably similar to their own. From the first whistle of this championship Mayo have been a team in a hurry. Fuelled by 12 months of hurt and regret, they are clearly on a mission. Horan is a confident individual who knows his mind and is fully aware of his own capabilities.

His team has adopted these traits, and the frailty one might have associated in the past with Mayo teams travelling to Croke Park seems to be eradicated under Horan. If teams can have a swagger then Mayo are guilty as charged. Their confidence isn't misplaced. They have left a trail of destruction on their journey to another final. Averaging 3-16 in their five championship matches, the semi-final with Tyrone apart, their victories have been achieved with ease.

Whether their opposition has been sub-standard is debatable and I suspect there is more substance to Dublin's journey, especially the merit of victories over Cork and Kerry.

The level of Mayo's performance will be dictated by the exploits of the O'Shea brothers at centrefield. They have had an outstanding year and provided a platform for Mayo to do great things. The clash with Michael Darragh Macauley and Cian O'Sullivan tomorrow will be an awesome battle and vital to the prosperity of respective forward divisions.

When Tyrone asked many questions of Mayo, it took some time before the answers were provided. Mayo's forwards struggled. Defenders Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan filled the breach and kicked three crucial points in the closing minutes of the first half.

Had Tyrone taken a four-point lead to the dressing-room, momentum and belief would have been radically different. A one-point deficit for Mayo resulted in a different mindset and, while they gave Tyrone chances that were uncharacteristically spurned in the second half, Mayo ran out comfortable winners.

In truth if they have aspirations of wining an All -Ireland, they should be beating a Sean Cavanagh-dependent Tyrone team comfortably.

SUSPECT

The worry for Mayo is doubts linger over their forwards – Andy Moran has been struggling all year, and Cillian O'Connor has a suspect shoulder.

Operating with just four forwards at full throttle won't be sufficient for either outfit tomorrow. While Dublin were badly exposed by the guile of Kerry, the Mayo forwards will pose a different type of threat. Mayo don't possess someone capable of operating in the way Cooper does and I think Dublin's defenders will cope with Mayo forwards far easier.

Even if Ger Brennan struggles once more, Gavin now knows O'Sullivan is a viable alternative at centre-back. Once Macauley and O'Sullivan or Bastick manage to get a hand on a reasonable amount of ball, I feel Dublin's forwards will create and score enough to surpass Mayo's total.

For all the free-scoring nature of their football, Dublin have been guilty of taking wrong options and wasting glaring chances in every match – yet they continue to win. On the day they click, the effect will be devastating.

Against Kerry, Bernard Brogan showed he is not far off the peak of his powers, Diarmuid Connolly looks more mature and assured under Gavin's management and, if the starting forwards don't fire, we saw the capabilities of Dean Rock, Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O'Gara.

And it will probably come down to such a factor. Intent will be equally as strong in both dressing-rooms; Dublin may well have the greater ability to excite as resources at their disposal are greater.

Prior to throw-in at Dublin's semi-final, images of Kevin Heffernan flashed up on the big screens throughout Croke Park. They carried images of great days and of a great man who will be forever associated with the history of Dublin football. Tomorrow he would be proud if Jim Gavin and his players deliver another of those memorable days.

Irish Independent

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