Thursday 23 November 2017

Same old failings return to haunt new-look Rebels

Dublin's second-half demolition job shows difference between the best and the rest

Michael Darragh Macauley scores Dublin’s first goal against Cork in the Allianz NFL Division 1 semi-final
Michael Darragh Macauley scores Dublin’s first goal against Cork in the Allianz NFL Division 1 semi-final
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

We were told to watch out for a new-look Cork football team in Croke Park – new management, new players and a new style of playing and, presumably for Cork followers, new results.

However, we did not see anything new apart from some outstanding players like Brian Hurley – until the supply to him was practically eliminated in the second half, at which stage he was being marked by Johnny Cooper.

Otherwise, it was an all too familiar situation for Cork – they played brilliant football at times in attack; they have a selection of quality midfielders, but never a pairing that can dominate opponents for the full game and, when the forwards are denied possession, as was the case in the second half, they look ordinary in their efforts to gain possession behind a losing midfield.

How Cork could suffer defeat after playing so brilliantly in the first half and in the early part of the second, when at one stage they led by 2-11 to 0-7, is a mystery.

Surely one of the first things players should remember is that when you are leading by 10 points against All-Ireland champions, your first ambition should be to get another score and another, and another.

But, as so often happens in this situation, instead of going for the jugular, Cork began to mess around in their own half with short, crossfield and reverse passing, thus allowing Dublin players to get in close and personal. In this type of head-to-head skirmish, the champions nearly always prevail.

So it was that Cork, for all their earlier brilliance, could only manage four points in the second half. In response, Dublin constructed a demolition job that brought them a staggering 2-13 and a massive winning margin in the context of what had gone before.

The most important asset Dublin have at the moment is their ability to win matches when it matters, regardless of the game's ebb and flow.

For that reason, Dublin fans could nearly consider not turning up on Hill 16 until half-time because what happens in the first half of their games is largely irrelevant and their team will always do enough in the second period to win.

This is a huge psychological bonus for Dublin and it is in marked contrast to Cork yesterday and Mayo in last year's All-Ireland final.

I doubt if there is any team in the land that knows at this stage how to actually beat Dublin over the full 70 minutes, as opposed to beating them in general play for long periods of the game.

Finally, Dublin have what few others have – real leaders. These men get the team back on the rails by their superb efforts in a crisis.

Included in this bunch yesterday were Michael Darragh Macauley, Philly McMahon, Eoghan O'Gara, and Alan and Bernard Brogan – they were worth their weight in gold.

Flashy Mayo could learn a thing or two from Derry's hard work

There are still people involved in Gaelic football who regard the National League as irrelevant to the championship and constantly cast aspersions on the competition.

Well, I hope they watched yesterday's semi-final between Derry and Mayo because it was a game fit for an All-Ireland semi-final or even final. It had everything you could ask for – high-quality football, wonderful scores, fast, open football, despite crowded defences for short periods by both sides, and above all a dramatic finish that really got the crowd going.

Referee Padraig Hughes also played his part with wonderful officiating, using common sense to keep the fast game going without interruption.

Unfortunately, he should have flashed at least three black cards, but it did not detract too much from the overall spectacle.

Mark Lynch has been a great footballer for a long time, and the Banagher man put on a one-man show of excellence yesterday that is unlikely to be surpassed this year.

He's a natural forward but had to revert to midfield for a long period when Derry were reduced to 14 players when Fergal Doherty was sent off before half-time. But somehow Lynch managed to control the midfield, as well as scoring three points from play despite the handicap of playing with 14 men.

What a performance, but then it only epitomised the whole Derry display. Beating the second best team in the country, short a man, was amazing. To win it at the death by scoring the last four points was astonishing.

Derry did not play flashy football yesterday, as Mayo did on many occasions. Instead, they played very measured and constructive football all through the game, even when they were under severe pressure and behind by a few points.

It was a performance that had all the hallmarks of a well-coached team that made maximum use of the players available to manager Brian McIver, who has long been one of the most underrated coaches in football.

Only a team whose players had total belief in their ability to win a particular game could have achieved what Derry did yesterday.

A new force in Ulster football is always welcome and the whole GAA community will await Derry's next game with interest.

For Mayo, this defeat is a serious setback, notably because their normally excellent backline was destroyed on many occasions.

To concede 2-15 to a Derry attack with only one marquee forward in Lynch leaves the Mayo management with a lot to ponder, bearing in mind that they may not be fully tested in the championship until August.

There were no 'flash Harrys' or 'fancy Dans' on this Derry team. Just solid, well-organised and hard-working players who never lost sight of what they were supposed to do.

A lesson, perhaps, for everybody involved in the Mayo football team.

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