Saturday 26 May 2018

Paul Curran: Mayo have no chance of winning if they adopt a predominantly defensive system

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Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Paul Curran

The curtain is coming down on another season and the final act between Mayo and Dublin promises to be a real belter. It is going to be a fascinating contest.

On one side you have a team going for four titles in just six seasons and determined as ever to keep the run going while on the other side you have a football-mad county desperately trying to win their first senior title in 65 years.

The pressure on this current Mayo group of players is enormous, and it will be how they deal with this pressure next Sunday afternoon that will determine the outcome.

This Mayo team have been here before on a couple of occasions, but have failed to perform on the big day. They will need to find something this time around, something that we haven’t seen from them all year.

This is another huge occasion and in the past few years these two teams have given us some memorable battles. Dublin have had the upper hand when it mattered, but Mayo have had their share of good results, which mostly came at the penultimate stages.

In the 2012 semi-final, Mayo shocked the reigning champions with some excellent football in the first half, but had to hold on for their lives at the end, having coughed up a ten-point advantage.  

Bernard Brogan had a glorious chance at the end but his effort was saved and Mayo went on – only to be beaten by Donegal in the final.

Last year they should have beaten Dublin but when the pressure came on they folded and that has been their problem over the years. It takes a good team to get to finals, but you have to be closing out a percentage of them otherwise serious questions arise about the team’s ability to cope.

This of course will be seen as a new game and another opportunity for them to get that much-wanted victory but for me the situation hasn’t changed a whole lot. The pressure is always there. It’s a constant part of a Mayo player’s make-up and until such time as they manage to win a title, it will always be there.

I haven’t been that impressed with them this year, but have been an admirer nonetheless over the years. There is a great squad of players there and a level of professionalism that comes with the top three or four teams. I know that deep down they believe that they are good enough to win an All-Ireland, but there is a huge difference between believing and actually going out and doing it.

The supporters absolutely believe that this is their year and they have no problem telling you that. Their argument this time around, however, is a little different than previous years.

They will admit that the team hasn’t played well to get to the final but that isn’t bothering them one little bit. The belief is that there is one big game in the team and with only one game left to play, this must be the one.

I don’t buy into that. I think Dublin are in a better position after their run from the quarter-final stage. A good test against northern opposition and a great win against Kerry, when there were serious questions asked of them, is the perfect way to go into the decider.

That preparation is absolutely priceless and should stand to them if they enter the closing stages and the game is still in the balance. This Dublin team will not bottle it when the hard questions are asked and in fact have proved time and again that they thrive in that situation.

Mayo, in their run through the qualifiers, struggled at times to get going and against Tipperary they never really looked like serious contenders. That doesn’t set them up for a game against a team that is going to keep attacking them no matter what the scoreboard is reading.

I don’t know what way Stephen Rochford will approach this game but he will need to get his tactics absolutely spot on if they are to have any chance. If his team adopt a predominantly defensive system, they will lose.

This Dublin team is attack-minded and is primed to keep attacking when in possession. That mindset starts with Stephen Cluxton and the kick-outs and on so many occasions the move starts right here.

 Most teams have opted to concede ground in this area and most teams have come up short. It is a difficult one because if you decide to push up you have to be winning that battle, otherwise Stephen will find his men further out the field and that is also a recipe for disaster.

This Mayo team could be capable of pushing up and that is something I think they will do on Sunday. They will need to be winning the long kick-outs so they will have to have pace in those outfield positions.

Aidan O’Shea is coming into form at the right time, but he is not one of those players that can get from one side of the field to the other in a hurry so it will be interesting to see where he plays most of the game.

The person picking him up will have to be on his game, as will a lot of the Dublin defenders, because Mayo have some really dangerous forwards. The two O’Connor’s are match-winners, but Jonny Cooper, Philly McMahon and James McCarthy are quality players who are hard to get the better of.

At the other end, the Mayo backs will have to be at their very best to keep out the likes of Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Ciarán Kilkenny, Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon. And even if they can manage that, they will then have to contend with Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O’Gara and Cormac Costello coming in behind them.

Dublin have the better squad and they have the experience of winning the big games. If it was simply a question of hunger, then Mayo would take this title, but this Dublin are hungry too and that should see them achieving the county’s first back-to-back in almost 40 years.

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