Saturday 21 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Personnel, psychology and pressure - what's going on in Jim Gavin's mind?'

Dublin boss has faced an All-Ireland final replay before but not with the hand of history on his shoulder

Jim Gavin brought Diarmuid Connolly in off the bench last Sunday but there was no sign of Bernard Brogan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jim Gavin brought Diarmuid Connolly in off the bench last Sunday but there was no sign of Bernard Brogan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The years were different, but Jim Gavin's reaction to drawing All-Ireland finals was much the same. And, in fairness, both were equally honest, accepting that Dublin didn't deliver to anticipated levels.

"Just disappointed with our performance - that's the over-riding thought. It just wasn't good enough today, simple as that," he said after last Sunday's enthralling encounter with Kerry.

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"After that performance, we didn't really deserve to win. It's not the standard that we go after," he said following the draw with Mayo in 2016.

Interestingly, there was no mention of disappointment in the Mayo camp three years ago or by Kerry last Sunday. Indeed, there was sense that both were so pleased to have survived the big Dublin test that they left Croke Park, clinking half-full glasses.

Gavin made a point of praising his players on both occasions, but he didn't hide his dissatisfaction.

Standards weren't reached, so answers would have to be provided, both by the squad in their analysis of the games and by management in terms of how they would approach the replays.

Losing a five-point lead in the final 20 minutes, as happened last Sunday, is anathema to everything Dublin stand for as a super-structured outfit who know how to manage a game.

Yes, they were a man down, but five points is a considerable lead, especially for such an experienced squad.

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Being outscored by 1-4 to 0-1 between the 57th and 66th minutes was a loss of control they hadn't encountered in the final quarter since Mayo recovered from a seven-point deficit to draw the 2015 semi-final.

Unlike last Sunday, Mayo didn't go ahead. Dublin had to contend with that major challenge against Kerry and, to their credit, they worked through it, eventually drawing level in the 74th minute.

Keeping the five-in-a-row dream alive with a stoppage-time point wasn't what Dublin expected and left Gavin with lots to contemplate before battle is rejoined next Saturday.

The question

Did the five-in-a-row factor kick in when Dublin led by 1-14 to 0-12 after 55 minutes? Unlike all other questions about individual performances, the numerical disadvantage, lack of impact off the bench etc, there's no way of ever finding an answer.

That's a worry for the replay because what can't be forensically analysed can't be corrected. In effect, all Dublin can do is hope it doesn't happen again if circumstances are in any way similar.

In the 1982 final, Kerry led Offaly by 0-17 to 0-13 after 64 minutes as they closed in on the five-in-a-row and then something strange happened. As with Dublin's edgy 10-minute spell last Sunday, Kerry's error rate increased and gradually the most confident team in history looked nervous and unsure of themselves.

Offaly outscored them by 1-2 to 0-0 on the run-in. Kerry had little time to regroup and, suddenly, five-in-a-row dreams vanished.

The crucial difference last Sunday was that Dublin's slump period came early enough in the final quarter to give them a chance to re-set and go again, which they did.

Indeed, they controlled almost all of the possession in the final 10 minutes.

The personnel

If Dublin supporters were told before the game that Jonny Cooper would have so much difficulty with David Clifford, that midfielders Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley would come second to David Moran and Jack Barry, that their starting forward line would score only six points between them from play and that none of their subs would score, they would have assumed the worst.

Despite all that, Dublin are still there and remain hot favourites. So what now? Gavin won't lose faith in Cooper, one of his most trusted anchors for several years, but he will hardly send him on Clifford patrol again.

Quite why he left Cooper on such a troublesome beat last Sunday was difficult to fathom, all the more so when he moved into the red zone after being booked.

Cooper could, of course, point to the amount and quality of the deliveries arriving into his area, which raises question about his colleagues further out, specifically the midfielders.

Macauley, who started his first final since the draw with Mayo in 2016, could well lose out, just as he did for the replay three years ago. Bernard Brogan was a high-profile casualty in a starting forward line that scored only four points from play in the 2016 draw with Mayo, but Gavin is unlikely to change any of his first-choice six for next Saturday.

However, Niall Scully, Paul Mannion and Ciarán Kilkenny will be expected to deliver a whole lot more, as will the subs when their chance arises. And will they include Bernard Brogan and/or Eoghan O'Gara, neither of whom made the 26-strong panel last Sunday?

The psychology

TV cameras weren't allowed for the presentation of the man-of-the-match award to Jack McCaffrey, presumably on the basis that since the game wasn't won, no individual should be publicly acknowledged for how he played.

A touch unnecessary, but since Dublin are the most micro-managed squad in GAA history, it was hardly surprising.

On a more general level, Dublin hadn't been seriously challenged in a game where the All-Ireland title was on the line since the 2017 final against Mayo.

Having survived it, some benefits will accrue. Irrespective of how management worked at keeping them focused, it would have been difficult for players not to think that they were well ahead of the rest.

They now know that's not the case - well, not against Kerry anyway - which will concentrate minds.

The problem is that, Kerry's confidence will have soared, so Dublin will be dealing with a much more self-assured outfit than the one which didn't really know where they stood prior to last Sunday.

The expectations

Dublin's odds have contracted from 1/5 last Sunday to 3/10. It's some movement against them, but not enough to suggest that public sentiment has changed dramatically. The general view is that having failed to win while having an extra man for the entire second half, Kerry have lost their chance.

It's an easy case to make, but how does Gavin stop it seeping into the players' consciousness?

And with history beckoning them to become the first team through the five-in-a-row doors, they are facing an odd mixture of emotions.

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