Sunday 25 August 2019

'Mayo will need to deliver game of the decade to beat Dublin'

Alan Dillon. Photo: Sportsfile
Alan Dillon. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

It's nearly two years since Alan Dillon called time on his lengthy Mayo career but the uncomfortable feeling of coming up against this current Dublin crop - "the most complete team of this era" - will never leave him.

Throughout his 15 seasons with Mayo, Dillon never encountered anything remotely like the effort required to compete with Jim Gavin's Dubs and the mental and emotional toll make him tired even at the thought of it.

"You don't have a moment to switch off, and if you do you lose that two steps and in Croke Park with their physical speed and strength, you won't catch them. They love that turf and it's not enjoyable out there," Dillon, who will be running for Fine Gale in the next general election, says candidly.

"The enjoyment comes from the result or competing and for the 70 minutes the players will not enjoy it because it's very, very mentally demanding and that's what Dublin bring to the table.

"Dublin and a full house in Croker is the game that every inter-county player wants but you don't even have a moment to look at the clock because that's a moment that you're not looking at your opposition. You cannot play the clock.

"You cannot play the scoreboard, it's play by play. That's the demands of a game of this magnitude. Dublin have been the benchmark and for younger players who maybe haven't experienced it before, they demand you to play in the moment.

"Your skill execution, concentration and focus, they all come into the mix for a complete performance and you can't have any chinks in that chain, otherwise a team like Dublin will expose you."

Dillon was on the wrong end of seven All-Ireland final appearances (including one replay) and recalls preparations before their most recent meetings with the Dubs in the deciders of 2016 and 2017 when every play was broken down.

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Every Dublin strength was acknowledged before working out a way to implement their own game-plan and while they may not have come out on top, Mayo have continuously pushed the champions closer than any other side in recent years.

The former Mayo captain believes they are one of the only teams with "the power to match Dublin and can go toe-to-toe for 70-plus minutes" while they "refuse to wilt or drop the head" despite all sorts of unfortunate setbacks.


Dublin's style has changed significantly since Donegal left them shellshocked with a seismic defeat in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final - their last championship loss - and the Ballintubber attacker feels mistakes will have to be minimised by James Horan's men against the ultra-efficient Dubs.

"Mayo will have to play super efficiently, they'll have to control the tempo when they're in possession and minimise the amount of turnovers because mistakes against Dublin are criminal. They're sinful, because they'll punish you," he adds.

"If you can quieten the crowd, hold possession for as long as you have to before creating an opening, you could see long periods where Mayo might be in possession and not kick it, that's where they'll have to get to. Make the smart decisions, get the right players on the ball and wait for the openings.

"The risk-reward needs to be really effective. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, it's the only currency that matters because if you cough up easy ball, these guys will punish you. When they cross your half-way line they're getting a shot or a score.

"They will have over 40 opportunities per game, but Mayo will need to limit them to 16 or 17 scores, they're going to have to have one of the games of their life. Mayo will have to be really compact and not turn the ball over."

Match-ups and who picks up who have rarely been as important as they will be this evening and Dillon - who made 134 appearances for Mayo - has some interesting takes on what Mayo players will be designated on specific Dublin players.

The two-time All-Star doesn't expect Paddy Durcan to revert to their attack and pick up Jack McCaffrey, instead feeling he would be better utilised in the full-back line on Paul Mannion to form a "rock-solid defence which must be ultra tight".

Chris Barrett on Dean Rock, Brendan Harrison picking up Con O'Callaghan, Lee Keegan following Ciarán Kilkenny, Stephen Coen on Niall Scully and Colm Boyle marking Brian Howard is how Dillon expects their defence to line up, with Keith Higgins pushing forward.

"What opened my eyes a lot was playing Keith in the half-forward line against Kerry, you could see a similar scenario where he might push up on Cian O'Sullivan playing sweeper. Keith played in the half-forward line in 2013 and I'd love to see him in the middle third.

"That would be explosive, he could track a lot of McCaffrey's runs and be that extra cover.

"We need that bit of pace on the half-forward line and if you put Kevin McLoughlin, Keith and Fionn McDonagh there, it helps to make up for Jason Doherty missing out."

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