Thursday 18 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Comeback helps Dubs discover best team to face Kerry in final

Mayo undone by their own naivety and pay heavy price for failure to contest Dublin’s kickouts

Philly McMahon celebrates scoring Dublin’s second goal in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay against Mayo
Philly McMahon celebrates scoring Dublin’s second goal in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay against Mayo
Dublin’s Michael Darragh MacAuley gets away from Chris Barrett of Mayo
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Anyone who really cares about Gaelic football should give thanks to Dublin and Mayo for the marvellous display of real, honest-to-goodness football they gave the Irish sporting public over the past two weekends.

The football in both games was hard, tough and rough, with a touch of nastiness thrown in but in the main it was manly.

That was always the rationale behind Gaelic football, that players could hit and be hit, take their punishment and dish it out but by-an-large stay within the rules of the game. Insulting opponents verbally, sledging, and other such mean, nasty activity such as we have witnessed in recent months was never part of Gaelic football so thank you Dublin and Mayo.

Dublin won the replay because they learned the lessons of the drawn game better than Mayo and in the process learned there are some unexpected weaknesses.

It was easier for them to do so because they had a far better selection of good players in their dugout and the versatility of their players was better than Mayo's.

So when Dublin wanted to vary their style somewhat in the intervening six days they had the players to do so, but not Mayo, who largely played the very same as the previous week.

Read more: Gentleman Jim mitigates a side ablaze with personality

But a couple of long-standing problems in Mayo also came back to haunt them, such as their lack of a strong focal point for their attack and their inability to crush strong opposition when they have the chance to do so as happened when they went four points clear shortly after half-time on Saturday.


Aidan O'Shea was a late conversion to playing in the full-forward line and it must be said that over the two days his talents were used very poorly. There seemed not to be a clear tactical formula as to how he was going to be used and his scoring contribution in both games virtually dried up, which was a critical factor in Mayo's hopes this season.

When his brother Seamus, who had been the dominant force in midfield, was dispatched harshly with a black card in the 37th minute it might have been wiser to have brought Aidan to midfield where he could express himself without being harangued, quite legitimately, by two or three Dublin defenders all the time.

This is a very good result for Dublin and Jim Gavin after a tempestuous week, which was largely their own doing.

He now has a much clearer knowledge of the team to play Kerry because several players were severely tested in this game and were either found wanting or proved to be the real deal.

Read more: 'They will come again'

Even players like Dean Rock, Johnny Cooper and Paul Flynn will have to prove their right to a place in the next few training sessions while Michael Darragh Macauley has surely advanced his cause.

It must be tempting to play Kevin McManamon from the start because of these wonder goals he scores but his role as super-sub is now thoroughly justified and will remain so for the final.

Something that will calm the enthusiasm of Dublin followers is the fact that after Mayo went four points clear the Dubs were seriously rattled despite the great scoring from play of their forwards, particularly Paddy Andrews.

In the 20 minutes after half-time Dublin only snatched one point, from a free. And it took a wonderful point from James McCarthy to lift his team to such an extent that within four minutes they scored 2-1 and the game was over at that point.

Bernard Brogan's wizardry was responsible for both goals through his reading of the game and were works of art in their own right even if Philly McMahon gets the nod for finishing off Bernard's second goal. By the same token the goals were caused by horrific defending by Mayo who on each occasion had extra defenders available but they seemed incapable of cutting out the impending danger. Shades of recent years there also!

Read more: Diarmuid Connolly's roundabout route gets him to the promised land

For the greater part of the game there were few leaders obvious on the Dublin team and they never looked like stretching away from Mayo. But the arrival of Macauley, McManamon and Alan Brogan changed all that as each of them glowed with self-belief and this turned the Dublin performance around almost immediately.

To me as a traditionalist the notion of a forward line allowing the opposing goalkeeper to give kickout after kickout to an unchallenged defender is plain stupid and I don't care what the modern coaches/managers say on the issue.

On Saturday at least three first-half Cluxton kickouts went unchallenged to a Dubs defender and they led directly to points for Dublin within seconds. This is simply tactics gone mad, would a rugby team concede the lineout contest in a match, which is a valid comparison because of how ridiculous this tactic is? The notion of not contesting a ball with your opponents is puerile in any football game but I'm sure the modern football whizz-kids will disagree.

Footnote: Last week's GAA news was dominated, not by an upcoming All-Ireland semi-final and a final but by the Diarmuid Connolly affair. And it showed in his performance last Saturday, not surprisingly. This carry-on of players being held in Croke Park until all hours of the night while disciplinary issues are teased out is a scandal. Surely meetings can be made to end by 10pm? On the wider issue, the GAA is now faced with a huge dilemma by the latest action of the DRA, a body that is independent of the GAA and dominated by legal experts. Their opinion in the Connolly and other cases has little or nothing to do with the actual offence involved but deals purely on technical, legal grounds. The GAA needs this sort of intervention in its own constitution's rules like a hole in the head.

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