Saturday 18 November 2017

Peter Canavan - Mayo have the plan to beat Dubs but one size won't fit all

Rochford's men have shown champions are fallible and they have the players to rise again

Jason Doherty’s goal chance for Mayo is saved by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Mayo’s poor conversion rate cost them dearly. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jason Doherty’s goal chance for Mayo is saved by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Mayo’s poor conversion rate cost them dearly. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

After the All-Ireland final is wrapped up, a few of us from the Sky Sports team usually take ourselves off into the city for a few drinks to mark the end of another season.

I decided to bypass that last Sunday night, mostly because I was exhausted. It was the kind of feeling I usually have after a Tyrone game, where you get so involved in what's happening before your eyes that you end up feeling wrecked when it's all over.

That was the emotional toll of last Sunday because it was so nerve-racking and tense for pretty much every minute of the game.

In the end, you wouldn't have been human if your heart didn't go out to Mayo. That's nothing against Dublin as they are great champions but it felt like Mayo had been through the wringer once too often last Sunday evening.

If they had not performed or made mistakes that cost them the game, then you would have left Croke Park thinking that they had only themselves to blame.

That wasn't the case. They played so well, gave everything of themselves and still had nothing to show for it.

The statistics that dripped out in the days after confirmed that very few had delivered such an accomplished performance in a final and not won.

Their tally of 1-16 would have won the previous nine deciders. Only one side in history has scored as much and lost an All-Ireland final - the '73 Galway team - and that was in an 80-minute game.

Once again they shone a light in the face of this Dublin team and asked them the hard questions. That Dublin found the answers is a testament to their greatness but Mayo are probably the only team around right now that are able to operate at their altitude consistently.

You're left wondering can the rest of the chasing pack take something from Mayo's performances that might help them in 2018 as Dublin go for an incredible fourth All-Ireland title in a row?

The answer to that question is multi-faceted. It's true that Mayo go at Dublin from the front foot and in doing that they show that Jim Gavin's side are fallible.

However, they can take that approach because they have an extraordinary set of players that most other counties don't. 

To go man-on-man with the Dublin forwards like they do takes an excellent rearguard.

Mayo have, to my mind, the best shot-stopper in the country in David Clarke. And if you look at their backs, five of them - Brendan Harrison, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins - will push hard for an All-Star with an accomplished performer like Donal Vaughan or Paddy Durcan filling the other spot in their defence.

They have the midfield to compete too. The Mayo forwards were so organised in the first half the last day that they could force Stephen Cluxton to go long with his kick-outs. And when he did they had ball-winners like Tom Parsons and Aidan and Seamus O'Shea there to ram it straight back down Dublin's throats.

Physically, they can go toe-to-toe and when it comes to getting tough, they can hold their own. 

Mayo have so many facets to their game that they can ask Dublin questions and bring them to the brink.

Remember that before last Sunday, the nine points that separated Dublin and Kildare after the Leinster final was as close as anyone got to them in the championship this year.

But it's not just a question of lifting the Mayo template and using it as your own to try and derail Jim Gavin's side.

There will be little bits here and there that you can take but you still have to play to the strengths of your own dressing-room.

Tyrone, Kerry and the rest still have to come up with the plan that suits them best rather than lifting the blueprint from another team. Football just doesn't work like that.

I have been talking to several people since the final and almost all of them had different ideas on the moment the game swung in Dublin's favour.

Some have pointed to Cillian O'Connor's free coming off the post and asked if Mayo should have been ready for that.

Others have pointed to some soft frees for Dublin before half-time. Then there's the Vaughan red-card incident and Jason Doherty's goal chance. 

For me, it came down to ruthlessness.

Dublin's conversion rate was higher than usual at around 67pc.

Mayo had more shots at the target (30 to Dublin's 27) but they made the wrong decisions at key moments.

Essentially, the decisions made in front of goal were the only thing that separated two great sides.

Mayo have shown the rest the way but then they have been doing that for a few years now and I don't expect any great shake-up in football's world order as a result of last weekend. 

Next year you'll be looking at the usual suspects plus one or two more who have the potential to get involved. 

Galway look like a team with the right age profile and a burgeoning amount of experience to improve over the next couple of seasons. Kildare also have the raw materials with big, powerful runners and talented forwards. 

Kerry are coming with a new wave of talent but that might take time, while Tyrone will look at tweaking how they play after their semi-final defeat to Dublin.

Those two sides probably have the most scope to change given the talent pool at their disposal.

Still, I expect Mayo to lead the charge next year because they are so close. 

That defeat felt like it hurt Mayo more than the others, but I just don't buy the suggestion that they will drop off the scene because they have had their heart broken again.

Working

I can't see those boys going away and playing tennis or working on the golf handicap next summer.

They play football because they love it. It's in their nature to come back for another crack at it. 

There will be questions about the likes of Andy Moran and Keith Higgins and whether they will go on. Credit to Stephen Rochford, he managed his older crew superbly this year and brought them to the boil at just the right time. 

It was a high-risk strategy because Mayo struggled in the league and in the early part of the championship and that can affect morale. But Rochford got it just right and there is no reason why he can't bring those boys along at the right time again in 2018.

He'll just have to find one or two more players to bring with them if they are to finally get over the line.

Irish Independent

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