Saturday 24 February 2018

Ryan McMenamin: Dublin's 20-man game plan sets new benchmark

Ryan McMenamin

A tough weekend, for sure. After a replay, my club Dromore were beaten in a Tyrone Championship game by Errigal Ciaran. We had our chances but, like Mayo yesterday, we didn't take them.

Defeat like that is always hard to take, and there is no consolation in being beaten by a more hungry team.

But that is where Mayo find themselves this morning. They have lost two All-Ireland finals in a row and they have given absolutely everything to it.

You would think that some players deserve an All-Ireland medal but sport is a cruel mistress. As Clint Eastwood said in 'Unforgiven', "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

Has there been a team that have made more use of their substitutes than this Dublin team? I can't think of one.

The cliché about it being a 20-man squad used to be merely a platitude to make substitutes feel more comfortable about not making the first 15, but now it has never been more crucial than to have replacements who will make a difference.

Mickey Harte had that outlook, and it was possibly influenced by the basketball model where they talk in terms of minutes on the court, rather than focusing who is in the line-up from the start.


He was able to use that in All-Ireland finals with Peter Canavan and it helped us across the line in 2003 and 2005.

At club football that kind of thinking may take a while to filter down, but certainly at inter-county level at the highest level, it is a massive weapon.

I can see county teams now looking ahead to 2014 and identifying fringe players that they can squeeze a ten per cent improvement out of, keeping them hungry by holding them back in reserve.

Normally, All-Ireland champions are straight away talked about in terms of going on to dominate the game for years. We said that about Cork, but they are miles away. And Donegal? It's unreal where they are now compared to this time last year.

But with Dublin it is slightly different. It's a young bench and there are brilliant footballers busting a gut to sit on it.

They have a squad like a rugby set-up, players do not mind getting taken off because they know the player coming on with fresh legs will make a difference.

It's a level of trust that takes a long time and major honours to build up.

As for Mayo, it's hard to see where they can get the appetite from to come back after this. But that's football, that's sport.

Irish Independent

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