Sunday 17 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Who learned more from All Ireland final draw?

Rochford and Gavin facing big test as they plan strategies for replay

Dublin manager Jim Gavin and his Mayo counterpart Stephen Rochford shake hands after Sunday’s drawn final. Photo:
Dublin manager Jim Gavin and his Mayo counterpart Stephen Rochford shake hands after Sunday’s drawn final. Photo:
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's a done deal - Mayo will win the All-Ireland final replay. That's if the mood at the National Ploughing championships is in any way a reflection of reality.

A show of hands predicting the winners ran at around 90-10 per cent in Mayo's favour at a discussion on GAA affairs in the Irish Independent marquee yesterday.

It was also the general opinion among the many people who were keen to stop and talk about the intriguing rematch. But then, the ploughing event is such a giant jamboree for country living, it's hardly surprising that Mayo would attract so much support.

Still, a growing number of other observers, who view these things dispassionately, are wondering if a dynamic, which seemed skewed inexorably in Dublin's favour prior to last Sunday, has changed.

Pat Spillane talked at the Indo session about the pressures associated with winning the All-Ireland two-in-a-row, a feat that has become increasingly rare since his days, when Kerry not only won doubles, but took it on to trebles too and even a four-in-a-row.

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Meath managed the double in 1987-'88, followed by Cork in 1989-'90, but Kerry (2006-'07) are the only county to retain the title over the last 25 years.

Even then, they would not have won it under the old All-Ireland system, as they would have been eliminated after losing to Cork in the Munster final, so the argument can be made that it's not quite as pure as their previous doubles.

Other squads who appeared good enough to retain the All-Ireland seized up under the intense pressure and while there's no way of knowing if that was a factor with Dublin last Sunday, it's certainly a possibility. Many high-quality players never reached their own standards and, as a result, Dublin's systems and strategies misfired.

Meanwhile, Mayo played like a side obsessed by a determination to play their way through whatever misfortunes flowed their way. That even included recovering from two own goals which, as far as is known, never happened in a final before.

Now, the big question is how both sides react to the draw. Jim Gavin and Stephen Rochford will have completed the analysis and are already plotting for a replay where, among the public at least, much of the focus will centre on whether changes are likely to be made.

I doubt if there will be very many, certainly not by Mayo whose room for manoeuvre is limited. Besides, it's difficult to see them tamper with a team that did so well against all odds. However, they do need to sort out some other issues.

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Gavin has more challenges but he has also more options and will get plenty advice - solicited or otherwise - on the supposed need for change, particularly in attack.

Perceptions can change very quickly. Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon and Dean Rock are now having their credentials questioned in a manner nobody would have dared before last Sunday.

Granted, it was a poor day for the Dublin attack, who would have been held responsible for defeat if Mayo's bizarre own goals leakage hadn't rescued the champions.

Many are now suggesting that Gavin should follow the Brian Cody blueprint, which almost always involves changes for replays.

It's certainly an interesting discussion point. Cody made changes for the 2012 and 2014 All-Ireland finals replays, when their opponents (Galway and Tipperary) didn't, and was rewarded with a match-winning injection of power.


Cody did it again this year, making three alterations for the semi-final replay with Waterford and, once again, it worked.

Many Dublin supporters argue that this is the best squad the county has ever had, in which case Gavin has lots of choices.

Yet, for all those apparent rich resources, his response to losing James McCarthy to injury for the Donegal game and to a black card last Sunday was to draw Ciarán Kilkenny back into defence and introduce a forward.

What does that say to Dublin's reserve defenders? You're good, but not as good as a half-forward.

Kilkenny's absence from the attack for so long last Sunday definitely reduced Dublin's strike power but he will return to his normal role for the replay, with McCarthy resuming at No 5.

After that will Gavin stick or twist? Somehow, I doubt if he's going to react to one bad day. Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, one wild duck doesn't make a winter.

Irish Independent

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