Thursday 22 February 2018

Martin Breheny: No guarantee of a Sunday shoot-out

Dublin and Mayo have been prolific but finals often take on a life of their own

Enda Varley celebrates scoring Mayo's second goal against Galway in the Connacht SFC quarter-final as James Horan's team marked comfortably through the province
Enda Varley celebrates scoring Mayo's second goal against Galway in the Connacht SFC quarter-final as James Horan's team marked comfortably through the province
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

SOMETHING has to give because this budget just won't balance. Both Dublin and Mayo have been high-income/low-spend economies right through the championship, leaving them with two massive scoring surpluses going into the All-Ireland final.

So, what happens now when the two most productive attacks in the business take on two miserly defences? Mayo have scored an average of 3-16 in their five games, just ahead of Dublin's 2-18 from the same number of games. Mayo have conceded 11.2 pts per game while Dublin's average giveaway has been 1-11.

If Dublin and Mayo's average scores for and against are replicated on Sunday, the Sam Maguire will go west on a 2-14 to 2-12 scoreline, making it quite a contest.

There's no doubt that Jim Gavin, James Horan and their respective advisors will have devoted a lot of time to studying how the opposition build their attacks. While both camps will feel that they have the firepower to out-gun the opposition irrespective of what's thrown at them, they also know that they are facing something different to anything they have encountered so far.

Lashing

Mayo launched the prolific trail when hitting Galway for 4-16 in May; back came Dublin by putting 1-22 past Westmeath. Mayo responded by taking Roscommon for 0-21 before Dublin raised the stakes by lashing 4-16 past Kildare. Dublin were in provincial final action earlier than Mayo, scoring 2-15 against Meath. Mayo retaliated by calmly slotting 5-11 past London.

At that stage, Dublin could justifiably contend that their strike rate was more meritorious on the basis that they had beaten better opposition than Mayo. That may indeed have been the case, but Mayo quickly trumped that by pilfering 4-17 off such noted misers as Donegal. By comparison, Dublin's 1-16 against Cork looked pretty ordinary. Except it wasn't, of course, since 1-16 wins a whole more games than it loses. Mind you, it would have lost the second All-Ireland semi-final as Kerry found that 3-11 wasn't enough to beat Dublin. A week earlier, Mayo matched the 1-16 Dublin had scored against Cork and sailed home a comfortable six points clear of Tyrone.

It leaves just three points between Mayo (14-81) and Dublin (11-87) from five outings each. It's as if they have been circling each other from afar all summer.

It really has been fascinating to monitor their progress as both racked up third successive provincial titles before Mayo headed north to kill off Ulster's finest, while Dublin trekked south to chastise Munster's 'Big Two'.

Now, the big question is how Gavin and Horan approach the final shoot-out. Do they remain loyal to the gung-ho blitz policy which has served them so spectacularly or adopt a more conservative approach against opposition whose scoring potential is enormous?

Being hit for 3-11 by Kerry will certainly have let Gavin with plenty to think about, but, on the plus side, Dublin survived that particular trauma. Still, will it prompt him to set the team up more defensively against Mayo's big-hitters?

On the plus side, Gavin knows how his squad will react if hit by an early goal blast after the impressive recovery against Kerry. Mayo have not faced that test this year.

Mayo have given away only one goal in five games, but needed no reminding of how quickly things can change. They were very solid defensively in their advance to last year's final, too, but were hit for two goals by Donegal in the opening 11 minutes, leaving them chasing the game all day. It's a memory which may well prompt Horan into deploying a fairly conservative game plan, initially at least.

Both Dublin and Mayo have proven conclusively that they have the capacity to accumulate big scores, but what happens if the game turns into a grindingly defensively affair?

Given the high yields so far, that might seem unlikely, but All-Ireland finals can take on very eccentric personalities. In 1980, Roscommon reached the All-Ireland final with an average score of 3-19, while Kerry averaged 3-16. We all headed for Croke Park expecting a scoring extravaganza. Really? Final score: Kerry 1-9 Roscommon 1-6.

The moral of the story? All-Ireland finals are often very different to what went before. It could be the same next Sunday which makes it crucial for Gavin and Horan to have the grinding gear working well, just in case.

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