Saturday 16 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Replay gods frown on outsiders

History shows favourites usually come good second time around

Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins show their disappointment after last year’s semi-final replay defeat to Dublin - will they be able to turn the tables when the two teams clash again at Croke Park on Saturday? Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins show their disappointment after last year’s semi-final replay defeat to Dublin - will they be able to turn the tables when the two teams clash again at Croke Park on Saturday? Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Three years ago, a familiar soundtrack accompanied Dublin hurlers to Portlaoise for a Leinster semi-final replay against Kilkenny.

"You've blown your big chance," was the assessment of Dublin as they prepared to re-engage with the All-Ireland champions. In fairness, it looked a reasonable conclusion, based on two factors - Kilkenny's excellent replay record, plus the losing history of underdogs second time around.

On this occasion, neither counted for anything. Dublin hurled even better than in the drawn game and won by three points.

It was a clear statement of self-belief by a squad whose confidence tanks had been filled by their survival against the odds first time out and they exploited it in the replay.

However, it was also a fairly rare occurrence, since history is overflowing with examples of favourites winning replays.

The Mayo camp has more than enough to concern it ahead of Saturday's replay, but worrying replay trends won't have gone unnoticed among their supporters. Mayo experienced it as recently as last year when, after staging a courageous recovery which earned a draw with Dublin, they were well beaten in the replay.

A year earlier, they lost to Kerry in a semi-final replay, which was an even-money affair. Mayo's three previous championship replays and all went with the odds. They beat Laois (2006) and Fermanagh (2004) as favourites and lost to Meath (1996) as outsiders.

Dublin's last five replays have all gone with the odds too. They beat Mayo (2015), Meath (2007) and Donegal (2002) as favourites and lost to Tyrone (2005) and Kerry (2001) as outsiders.

All-Ireland football final replays haven't upset the markets either, with favourites prevailing. Kerry beat Galway in 2000; Meath beat Mayo in 1996 and Cork in 1988; Offaly beat Kerry in 1972.

Offaly starting as favourites against Kerry might appear unusual but that wasn't the case 44 years ago as they were the reigning champions, having won the title for the first time a year earlier.

Apart from Dublin (v Kilkenny) and Wexford (they beat reigning All-Ireland champions Clare) in 2013, there aren't many examples in hurling either of outsiders winning replays, not in recent times anyway.

Cork and Clare were even-money for the 2013 final replay but favourites Kilkenny beat Galway and Tipperary respectively in 2012 and 2014.

They also downed Galway in a 2014 Leinster semi-final replay and eliminated Waterford at the second attempt in this year's All-Ireland semi-final and the 2013 qualifiers.

Cork, the previous year's All-Ireland runners-up, beat Waterford in the 2014 Munster quarter-final replay, while Kerry footballers lived up to their favourites' tag when beating Cork second time around last year.

Galway and Tyrone footballers beat Roscommon and Cavan respectively as favourites in replays this year. In fact, the list of fancies who triumphed at the second attempts down through championship history strongly supports the case that outsiders tend to get one chance only.

Of course Mayo will ignore that trend, since anything else would be utterly counter-productive.

At the same time, it remains a background pressure which, when added to the many others, suggests Mayo will have to deliver something special to win on Saturday.


Despite history's hand weighing heavily in Dublin's favour, there has been far more attention devoted to their perceived need for change than to whether Mayo should freshen up their troops.

Indeed, if Jim Gavin were to heed all the advice he has received since the drawn game, he would line up with a much-changed attack on Saturday, whereas Mayo would make minimal - if indeed any - changes.

That's down to Dublin having stronger back-up forces. That Gavin's options include omitting Bernard Brogan from the first 15 underlines the strength of the manager's hand.

Personally, I will be surprised if Brogan does not retain his starting place. Granted, he has not visited the peaks of previous seasons so far but he still remains an important figure in the Dublin attack.

Mayo would be pleased to see Dublin start without him, not just in playing terms, but also from the psychological edge accruing from Gavin omitting such a cult figure.

I can't see it happening.

Irish Independent

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