Tuesday 21 January 2020

Dublin set to exploit second chance and negotiate their first double for 39 years

Mayo's Lee Keegan and Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly will each hope their respective sides can emerge victorious from today's All-Ireland SFC replay. Picture: Sportsfile
Mayo's Lee Keegan and Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly will each hope their respective sides can emerge victorious from today's All-Ireland SFC replay. Picture: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Here are two things that won't happen today. Mayo will not concede two own goals and Dublin's six starting forwards will score more than two points between them from open play.

That two such oddities occurred in the one game shows just how strange the drawn final really was.

If Mayo were told in advance that Dublin players would be restricted to nine points, they would have taken it as automatic that the All-Ireland drought was about to end. Similarly if they were pre-warned of the two own goals, they would have assumed it was another lost cause.

Naturally, much has been made of Mayo's own goals, on the basis that they were freakish events, but that misses a central point. Both were clear goal chances that Dublin had created and with David Clarke making at least two other excellent saves, it shows that the Mayo defence was not as secure as is being suggested.

Of course, replays don't always follow a similar pattern to draws and since the Dublin attack delivered its worst performance for a long time, Jim Gavin will be hoping that's very much the case today.

In fairness to Stephen Rochford, he got the defensive structure and the match-ups right, presenting Dublin with a conundrum they found very difficult to fathom.

Kevin McLoughlin did well as the sweeper while Mayo were tight and controlled on the man-to-man exchanges too.

Having said that, Dublin were unusually sloppy. Our ratings for the six starting forwards averaged just under six, which is way below the norm for such talented players.

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Their touch was off which either slowed or totally disrupted the rhythm of a group that usually thrives on poise aligned with power and pace.

It's difficult to envisage a scenario where they will be as ineffective again. They scored only nine times (discounting Mayo's two own goals), their lowest in the championship since the bizarre 2011 semi-final against Donegal, which Dublin won 0-8 to 0-6.

In all probability, the Dublin attack will be sharper this time, in which case Mayo need to be even better defensively that they were last time.

At the other end, the Mayo attack had a mixed day too, leaving the clear impression that there's more in them. That certainly applies to Diarmuid O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea, neither of whom scored and who didn't make anything like the impression expected from such two fine talents.

O'Shea's role didn't appear to be clearly defined, making it easier for the Dublin attack to limit his impact.

And what on earth was he doing taking a sideline kick near the end? Anyone can hoof a kick in the direction of the goal, yet the task went to O'Shea, whose 6' 4" frame was badly needed inside. Instead, Dublin mopped up easily and launched a counter-attack.

There's still a solid case to be made for deploying O'Shea close to the Dublin goal. He has a considerable height advantage over all the Dublin defenders so why not use it?

Of course if O'Shea is to be successful as a target man, Mayo need to win a lots of possession further out, a challenge they found difficult in the drawn game.


Therein rests the dilemma for Mayo. Do they locate O'Shea close to goal and risk him being isolated or use him further afield and miss out on his power close in?

They can use both ploys to varying degrees over the 70 minutes but it really is important that he gets chances to test Dublin's aerial defences.

As part of their attacking strategy, Mayo also need to get Lee Keegan going forward more than he did in the drawn game. Appointing him as Diarmuid Connolly's 'minder' has its merits, but it's coming at the cost of restricting his attacking instincts, which proved very productive in previous seasons.

Despite the close call 13 days ago, Dublin remain firm favourites to clinch their first All-Ireland double since 1976-'77. The odds don't reflect the reality as Mayo are much better than the 9/4 odds suggest. For all that, their All-Ireland final misery is likely to continue.

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