Sunday 17 December 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: I'm changing horses mid-race - I'm off Dublin and leaning towards Mayo

Dublin players Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy, and Diarmuid Connolly signal to referee Joe McQuillan that Lee Keegan, Mayo, dived
Dublin players Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy, and Diarmuid Connolly signal to referee Joe McQuillan that Lee Keegan, Mayo, dived

Tomás Ó Sé

For Dublin, it’s very straightforward. There isn’t any aspect of the game or an individual player – with the exception of Brian Fenton and maybe one or two others – that won’t be expected to improve greatly from the drawn final.

Jim Gavin will have made a list of things they need to work on. It’ll be as lengthy as it will be obvious and he won’t have to say much to his side to get a reaction. He can expect a better performance from his men.

To help get that reaction, I’d be making a change in attack, though what the right one is, is anyone’s guess. And I’d be throwing Denis Bastick in as well, because he’d let Fenton get forward more.

For Mayo, it’s very different. Their challenge is much more nuanced and as such it is much more interesting. How do you build on a good performance and turn it into a winning one? How do you come again, not with the same, but with even more?

This week will have been hard for both teams. I was watching it all unfold and was thankful I wasn’t in the middle of it.

The world and his wife have an opinion on what will happen this evening. There’s more media than ever before and there’s been wall-to-wall coverage on who should be dropped, where the tickets are going, even conspiracy theories! It’s everywhere you go from papers, radio and social media. Some of it is bound to get into the players.

So for me, where Mayo are mentally is a critical factor in this game. You see, they brought war the last day. A lovely sort of controlled fury. The made sure that anarchy reigned in the 40 yards in front of their goal, and as a defender, I loved watching it.

For me, the way they shut down the Dublin forwards – who I have down as one of the very best units we’ve seen in recent years – was one of the highlights of the year.

And that was a mental thing, more than a physical one. Keeping that set of forwards down like they did is a mindset and something they got right in the days and weeks before the final. They terrorised them. They were rabid, intelligent and relentless.

It took a huge effort to do that once. Doing it again is their only choice. They’ll have to get back to that place tonight.

Somewhere along the line in the last 13 days, they’ll have sat in a room and thrashed things out and tried to make sure the heads were right.

I used to hate those meetings because the emotion in them could get very raw. They were powerful places to be and they could go on for maybe a couple of hours. I’d go home and drink some tea and the thing would still be eating into my head. They were that intense, that powerful.

So this week Mayo will have talked and argued and analysed. Fellas will stand up. Things will be said that you mightn’t necessarily want to hear.

And that’s where the danger lies in those meetings. They need to be managed. No going off on tangents. Succinct points and how certain areas can be improved. You want honesty without it descending into a blame game. The last thing you want is finger-pointing and shouting matches.

But get that meeting right, get all the main points made and you’re in a good place. It leaves minds focused and ready to go.

Mayo will have plenty to get through at that confab. Their kick-outs need to be sharper. When they needed possession late on, they couldn’t get it and a couple went awry. That’s not just on David Clarke. It’s as much on the lads out the field making the runs and giving him something to hit.

Bernard Brogan shot deflects off the foot of Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin for Dublin’s opening goal in the drawn All-Ireland SFC final last Sunday week - Mayo will be hoping for better luck today. Picture: Sportsfile

Their defence was brilliant. They had help from the likes of Kevin McLoughlin dropping back but they never stopped. Keeping that Dublin side to just nine points was excellent. Everyone will expect Dublin to be better up front but I’d be asking those Mayo lads is there any earthly reason why they can’t do that again.

I’d want more of the same from Lee Keegan, but he can offer more going forward too. There was a lot of talk about him and Diarmuid Connolly this week. I’m sick to the teeth of it at this stage. Jesus, there’s nothing malicious going on there other than two fellas trying to get the better of each other.

Rules are always going to be bent or broken in football. The two lads live on the edge, and if you’re not on the edge you’ve no place in an All-Ireland final. And as such they are going to come to the attention of referees so I won’t be surprised if they are central to the story tonight.

That’s the nature of it. To say one of them is a great lad and the other is wicked then that’s just a cock-eyed view and you’re too close to it. Just let them at it, I say.

In any case, I’m certain Maurice Deegan won’t be swayed by any of the commentary. I’d implore him to let the game as a whole flow as much as possible.

Anyway, Mayo, Keegan and their defensive unit as a whole need to lay down the rules of engagement again.

Now at midfield, there are big questions. Someone has to get a hand on Fenton. He had the run of the place the last day, including two good goal chances. He can’t be left unchecked again. Maybe they need to move the responsibility around to give lads a breather because Fenton has some engine.

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Mayo will need to do more to track the dangerous running of Brian Fenton Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In all, Mayo need more from Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea. There was a 15-minute period where everything went wrong for Seamie and he might have been taken off there and then. He was giving away turnovers. But he wasn’t the only one. Mayo worked so hard to get the ball it was frustrating to look at them giving it back so easily. That has to be tightened up.

Up front is where I see the most room for improvement. Forwards have been Mayo’s weakness over the years but no-one can tell me that they got as much as they can expect out of the two O’Connors and Aidan O’Shea. And if they don’t perform then for me Mayo just can’t win this game.

Mayo scored 15 points the other day. That’s just not enough. They’ll need to find the net to win the game. At times in the drawn game Mayo lost their shape. When they looked to go long it didn’t work because their forwards were isolated.

They need to leave at least three players up to give them an out ball from defence. And when those boys get the chance, they are going to have to finish it off. No second chances tonight. They must be ruthless. At some stage in that room too, and this is the tricky part, they are going have to had confront the fact that they played really well and still didn’t win.

This is where Stephen Rochford, Donie Buckley and the rest come in. Those two boys have won at club so they know their onions.

But maybe their greatest asset here is Tony McEntee. He was through the wringer as a player and had been knocking on the door a while with Armagh before making the breakthrough in 2002. He can offer experience here that no-one else can. He knows what these lads are going through.

And Mayo will need everything they can summon because they have poked the bear now. If Dublin brought a hangover into the draw, it’s gone now.

I used to always think about what the opposition would be saying about us and try and bring fire to that aspect of the game. And Dublin will be wondering how the Mayo defence got on top of them so and I expect a reaction from them. I expect them to come out firing.

But Mayo don’t have to let them dictate the terms early on. They can’t slip into the comfort zone where they think that because their defence was excellent the last day they don’t have to work on it as hard this time around.

One of the best sporting events I ever watched was the Steve Collins and Chris Eubank fight. And at the start of that Collins basically ran across the ring and went bull-headed for Eubank. That set the tone that night and Mayo can lay down the law here early too.

I just can’t wait for it. No-one can doubt Mayo’s bottle after the last day and I think they’ll have to bring chaos once more. And if they can marry that with the analysis of the drawn game and an improved attacking effort then they have all the things they need in place.

I’m changing horses midstream and after going for the Dubs in the drawn game, I’m going to lean slightly towards Mayo in the replay. Either way I expect it to be epic.

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