Thursday 22 August 2019

Four factors from the past that can shape Dublin's destiny against Mayo

Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out strategy has changed the face of Gaelic football beyond recognition. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out strategy has changed the face of Gaelic football beyond recognition. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Cluxton's second half silver service

To this day, the second half of the 2013 All-Ireland final is, arguably, the high point of Stephen Cluxton's kick-out excellence for Dublin.

He's had stand-out kicks against Tyrone in successive years, one in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final that led to a foul on James McCarthy for their opening score from a Dean Rock free and of course that precision delivery for Jack McCaffrey to run on to in last year's All-Ireland final and make the run for their second point, courtesy of Ciaran Kilkenny, that had the effect of bringing calm after the disorder of Tyrone's early 0-5 to 0-1 lead.

But as an overall package, the service delivered down the home stretch six years ago stands out.

From eight kicks, Cluxton was able to find a colleague comfortably each time, delivering a 100 per cent record in that period.

It wasn't just that he was able to find his target on that sweltering day, it was the space they were able to engineer down that left flank beneath a sun-drenched Cusack Stand that stood apart.

Six of the eight went long into that space as fatigued opponents struggled to shut it down. It is in those clutch second-half moments of an All-Ireland final that Cluxton is often at his best.

And in the four championship games with great rivals Mayo where there has been an outcome (2013 final, 2015 semi-final replay, 2016 final replay and 2017 final), he has scarcely put a foot wrong.

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In those four games, where the pressure has obviously been at a peak, Dublin have retained 32 of the 34 kick-outs he has despatched. Even by his standards, that's a remarkable return and chimes with his overall record after half-time in all his All-Ireland finals, the 2015 decider against Kerry apart when four of his eight restarts were turned over.

In 2016 Tom Parsons plundered one just after half-time and they lost another late on but still managed to return nine from 11.
A year earlier, in the All-Ireland semi-final replay, with Mayo on the backfoot in the final quarter, Cluxton had less to do but still got all five away successfully to receivers at short range.

In 2017 Mayo had one of their better days on the Cluxton kick-out in the first half when they won a number that went long but normal service resumed in the second half as he took shorter options and returned 10 from 10 with Mayo electing not to commit completely to pushing up.

A couple of those kick-outs were behind the 13-metre line, a tactic that has since had to be dispensed with because of a rule change. But Mayo's lack of second half success on the Cluxton kick-out has not helped them.

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Jack McCaffrey factor


McCaffrey has been in flying form for Dublin this season and last but he hasn't, effectively, featured against Mayo in any of their last three championship meetings.

In the 2017 final he limped off after only four minutes with a torn cruciate ligament while he didn't commit to playing with Dublin the previous year, opting to travel instead.

Dealing with McCaffrey's searing pace is not something new to Mayo. When they met in the two 2015 semi-finals Diarmuid O'Connor matched up and had him on the back foot at times, especially in the first game. But O'Connor has been laid up with a wrist injury for much of the summer and if he does see game time, it will surely be restricted to an impact role.

Since recovering from his knee injury McCaffrey's game looks like it has gone up another level. It's not something new for Mayo to deal with but it might feel like it.

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Lee Keegan can't be on every Dublin forward's case


Lee Keegan has, naturally, been the focus of much speculation and analysis about who he might mark. In the past, it has been Diarmuid Connolly but with Connolly on the bench for the first half of the 2017 final, Keegan switched to Ciaran Kilkenny with the playmaker-in-chief having one of his most subdued games.

But there were fires to put out elsewhere with Dean Rock and Paul Mannion in particular finding gaps on Brendan Harrison and Chris Barrett in the second half. Barrett still delivered a magnificent defensive performance.

After a flying start, Con O'Callaghan had a relatively quiet final but over the last three games he has unquestionably been Dublin's most dangerous forward. Wherever they position him, he'll do a job. But he can't be everywhere.

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Dublin's superior bench impact

In all of the championship games through a decade of great rivalry, Dublin's impact off the bench has been greater.

In 2013, Eoghan O'Gara replaced the injured Paul Mannion had such an impact that Keith Higgins had to be shifted from attack to defence to cover him in the second half. Denis Bastick, not long on the field, gave the final pass for Bernard Brogan's second goal.

In the 2015 semi-final replay, Alan Brogan played a supporting role in his brother's goal to turn the tie before Kevin McManamon surged to kick a third goal that evening to put it beyond doubt.

In the 2016 final replay Cormac Costello's three points were pivotal but so too were Michael Darragh MacAuley's storming runs through the middle when he came on.

Diarmuid Connolly gave the biggest impetus in 2017, scoring a superb point and winning the free which Dean Rock converted for their late lead.

For Mayo, Andy Moran's intervention off the bench in the drawn 2015 All-Ireland semi-final has been their most telling as he scored two points.

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