Sunday 15 September 2019

Pat Spillane: 'Dublin's demolition of Louth left me breathless, while Tyrone continue to impress'

Andy McDonnell of Louth in action against Jack McCaffrey of Dublin during the Leinster SFC quarter-final at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Andy McDonnell of Louth in action against Jack McCaffrey of Dublin during the Leinster SFC quarter-final at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

There is a saying in Kerry that sometimes we have four seasons in a day.

Last weekend's championship action had an 'all kinds of everything' feel about it too.

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As expected there were one-sided games involving Dublin and Louth and Tyrone playing Antrim.

There was an upset in Castlebar, puke football at its very worst courtesy of Fermanagh and a cracking drawn encounter between Longford and Kildare.

Even though I am repeating myself,  I have to put it on record again that so far the 2019 football championship and, in particular, the games between teams of a similar standard, has been excellent this year.

Nobody could seriously challenge my assertion that the Mayo v Roscommon and Kildare v Longford encounters were far more entertaining, compelling and interesting than the turgid live TV hurling encounter between Galway and Wexford.

This was the first weekend that so many of the big guns were in action. We witnessed All-Ireland champions Dublin, beaten finalists Tyrone, league champions Mayo, as well as three of last year’s Super 8s teams in Donegal, Roscommon and Kildare.

This is my initial analysis of these teams, though like the RTE/TG4 election exit poll they carry a big health warning.

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It's slightly futile to read too much into the runaway wins achieved by Dublin and Tyrone, but there were still some interesting straws in the wind nonetheless.

Dublin's performance left me breathless it was so ruthless. In the last few years they have had a habit of fluting through Leinster in second gear, but the weekend before last they had their foot on the pedal for the entire match.

Patrick Durcan of Mayo in action against Niall Kilroy of Roscommon during the Connacht SFC semi-final at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Patrick Durcan of Mayo in action against Niall Kilroy of Roscommon during the Connacht SFC semi-final at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And when they play that brand of high-tempo football they are unstoppable. The performance was surely a reflection on the competition for places in the Dublin squad and I expect more of the same for the rest of the Leinster series.

I continue to be impressed by this new-look Tyrone team and I laughed out loud when Joe Brolly highlighted their defensive frailties on The Sunday Game.

Surely it was the total football they played in the first-half which was the big talking point.

Their new focus on positive football is to be commended, their kicking game was superb and they were ruthless when they needed to be.

Tyrone had 14 different scorers and 11 of the starting 15 got on the score sheet. The Red Hands have always had skilful players. Now playing with the handbrake off, they have started to express themselves. It is reaping a rich harvest, though they do still have issues in defence.

What transpired in Castlebar was a big surprise. Based on the bare match stats there is no way Roscommon should have won: They lost more kick-outs, had less possession, fewer attacks and between the 20th and 45th minute, and again between the 56th and 73rd, they failed to score.

So why did the Rossies win? For starters, goals win matches and they got two while Mayo failed to raise a green flag.

Systems are important, but unless teams have the right attitude, work rate and intensity, tactics are useless.

Roscommon displayed all these qualities in spades, while their substitutes made more of an impact than the Mayo replacements.

Anthony Cunningham's decision to hold the Smith brothers and Conor Devaney in reserve paid a handsome dividend, but it was their efficiency in attack which really caught the eye.

In the second-half when they were under the cosh they had 13 attacks, all of which translated into shots, and they scored 0-6.

So what of Mayo? Well, I'm not writing them off just yet.

The narrative that they're chokers is far too simplistic - even though the Green and Red keep offering up evidence to back up that assertion.

Their lack of composure when the finish line is in sight is a recurring nightmare for them and what happened in the last 20 minutes highlighted this issue. They had 11 attacks, got six shots off and scored twice. That is simply not good enough.

This lack of composure, allied to the lack of a marquee forward, including a reliable free-taker, continues to haunt them. It's like Groundhog Day.

They failed to score a goal, kicked 15 wides and converted just 17 out of 37 chances.

Last Sunday I wrote off Monaghan's chances of reaching the Super 8s via the back door and I stand by that prediction.

But Mayo are a different animal compared to Monaghan because they have an abundance of young players, such as Matthew Ruane, Michael Plunkett, Fionn McDonagh, James Carr, James McCormack and Ciaran Treacy coming through the ranks.

They will now have their hands up for starting roles and these players could actually benefit from a run of matches in the qualifiers. Does that apply to some of the older lads with a lot of football on their body clocks? Most definitely not!

My early season verdict on Mayo is that though they won’t win an All-Ireland in 2019 they will take out one of the big guns before the summer is over.

There were no surprises in Enniskillen. Donegal never looked like losing; they dug out a win and kicked some wonderful long-range points.

While Paddy McBrearty remains rusty he will become more influential as the summer progresses.

As the same time they didn't strike me as a team who could challenge for championship honours.

It took them a long time to put away Fermanagh, they were very naive for long periods and Donegal didn’t create a single goal chance.

Unusually for a Donegal side their defence looks less than water-tight.

I could do the populist thing – ridicule Fermanagh and throw them under the bus, but I will desist.

Setting up defensively makes them very difficult to beat and it occasionally offers an opportunity to win a game against the head. They did it last year in the Ulster semi-final.

Essentially, though, their football is the equivalent of painting by numbers. It is about damage limitation and moral victories, but it will never be good enough to win trophies.

Carlow, Fermanagh and Down are now the only teams who play this rigid, defensive style and it is not a coincidence that all have exited the provincial series.

The purpose of entering any competition is to at least dare to dream about winning it.

St Michael's Enniskillen triumphed in the All-Ireland 'A' Colleges title this year.

Surely the county team can show at least a fraction of their ambition.

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