Sunday 25 February 2018

Ciaran Whelan: It would have been daylight robbery if Dublin held on to beat Mayo

Read Whelan's column every week in the Herald

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin and Patrick Durcan of Mayo shake hands after the game
Stephen Cluxton of Dublin and Patrick Durcan of Mayo shake hands after the game

Ciarán Whelan

In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s enthralling encounter in Croke Park, it is difficult enough to put a proper perspective on what occurred given the nature of the game.

It certainly wasn’t a modern-day classic that we have been fortunate to witness in recent years but there were enough fascinating sub-plots to keep the capacity crowd at headquarters riveted for the duration as the contest ebbed and flowed throughout.

With time almost up, I was thinking that if Dublin had held on for a one-point win, it would have been tantamount to daylight robbery and Jim Gavin suggested as much in his post-match interview on RTE.

Without wishing to be too critical of them, Dublin delivered one of their poorest displays in recent years and in my opinion, they were fortunate to escape with a draw.

The forward line just didn’t click on the day and the fact that only two of the starting forward-line scored from play reflects the difficulties that Dublin had in attack.

Their handling was poor and despite the difficult conditions, Mayo didn’t struggle to the same degree and the shot selection at times was not what we have become accustomed to in recent years.

Credit must go to Mayo for the defensive tightness they showed and it’s fair to say that they got 75% of their game right.

They were excellent at putting pressure on the Dublin forward line although they were caught ball-watching on a couple of occasions, ending up in those fortuitous goals for Dublin.

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin tussles with Lee Keegan, left, David Clarke, second from left, and Keith Higgins, right, of Mayo
Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly get to grips with each other

While they were solid in defence, they were also heavily populated there and as a consequence, we never really saw the forward bursts of Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins as they were far too focussed on their defensive duties.

They ensured that they were forced to kick the ball more often than they would normally do and much of this was poor, especially in the first-half as Dublin mopped up without any great degree of alarm.

That tactic marginalised the Mayo attack to a large degree and it was only during that period after half-time when Mayo kicked five points without reply did they look to punch holes in the Dublin defence from deep.

There were a lot of positives from a Mayo perspective in what they did and while they might argue to the contrary, Dublin lacked the intensity of Mayo in many of the tight exchanges.

They seemed to possess a greater desire to win the so-called ‘dirty-ball’ than Dublin and when the game was up for grabs in the final ten minutes, I thought that apparent difference between the teams might swing the tie in Mayo’s favour.

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That they didn’t manage to pull through by the final whistle in testament to the character and resolve of the Dublin team, who certainly could not be accused of not digging in despite playing well below their collective potential over the 80-odd minutes.

There were few enough isolated examples of positive performances for Dublin but John Small certainly deserves credit for his performance as he looked the one player to be driving Dublin on, particularly in the second-half.

The Ballymun Kickhams player’s importance was even more pressing as a consequence of the black card received by James McCarthy, a player who genuinely excels in that role for Dublin.

I thought that was a very poor decision by referee Conor Lane, albeit the decision was made on the advice of linesman Joe McQuillan.

Lane had a very poor game in my view and he looked to be lacking composure from the outset.

The decision with McCarthy was an incorrect one in my opinion and there were more genuine examples of this type of expulsion that were strangely overlooked by him.

He was hugely inconsistent in his interpretation of the rules and that was a factor that continued throughout the game.

The Dublin defence did well in general with Jonny Cooper once again to the fore and I also thought that Brian Fenton again highlighted his importance to the current side with another mature and compelling performance.

However, few enough of the team reached the heights that we would expect of them but naturally, that doesn’t make Dublin a poor team overnight.  

That their defence of their All-Ireland title is still alive is a positive for Dublin to derive from yesterday and they know that they have an awful lot to work on between now and Saturday week.

While there will be a level of disappointment within the county in terms of their performance, we should acknowledge their composure for large parts and almost doing enough to getting over the line.   

Similar questions, albeit not as many I imagine, were asked of them in the immediate aftermath of last year’s drawn semi-final and they managed to produce a far more convincing display in the replay.

They know that they didn’t play well but they’ll also appreciate that they live to fight another day.

That should be more than enough motivation for this panel as they prepare for Saturday week with the two-in-a-row still a more than viable option.

Herald Sport

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