Padraic Joyce: People are saying that Dublin won’t play as badly again, but Mayo didn’t allow them to play
Drawing an All-Ireland final is a weird sensation.
The last time it happened was in 2000 when the Galway team I was captain of was joined at the hip with Kerry after 70 minutes. Just to give you a picture of what it’s been like for the Mayo and Dublin players, it’s normal to book the week off work after you’ve played in an All-Ireland final. Be it for the sorrows or the celebrations, you want those few days cleared as preparing for an All-Ireland final is exhausting. You’d have your family up, plans made — but then a draw drastically changes all your plans. So you’re in a strange vacuum.
There would have been the post-match banquet where you’d have been looking forward to letting off a bit of steam, but a draw changes your thinking on all that stuff. I presume the management kept their teams away from the banquets which isn’t always ideal with sponsors and such, but winning the replay is all that matters.
Back in 2000, the GAA had a tradition of the two teams meeting the following day in the same hotel for lunch. This was a painful exercise if you were on the losing team. In 1998, Kildare came to the Burlington for lunch and fair play to Willie McCreery who gave us a good tip for the Tuesday that duly obliged at 8/1 — keeping our pockets well lined for the week ahead! We were to have lunch with Kerry in City West in 2000 but not many of their lads showed up so, to be fair, this was the last year the GAA kept up this tradition.
The management want to get the players back home and into a routine for training, and I’m sure there wasn’t a whole lot done in the days after by Mayo and Dublin. Light sessions really, building up to playing some real football again at the weekend in between the games.
You have to be the team that gets the mind focused right in those 13 days that separate the final whistle of one game and the opening shrill peep of the replay. Part of that includes processing what happened, something we didn’t manage too well back in 2000.
Kerry had been on top early on in the first game but we managed to pull ourselves back level, so that was a huge positive. Just like Mayo now, there’s the proof that you know you can walk into the fire and come out alive against a big hitter. Late in the game though, we had also missed three glorious chances to win the game but each of them landed into the hands of Kingdom goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe. That left a stain and we paid dearly for that. I recall Denis Dwyer had an effort late on also for Kerry that didn’t find the target either.
So that’s what it’s all about for Stephen Rochford and Jim Gavin, processing their teams’ performances and refocusing. For the players, it’s about trying to redeem yourself if you didn’t play up to your potential, and I’d suggest that maybe only eight out of the 30 starters managed to do that.
The question is whether we will see any changes in the line-ups. Dublin have an embarrassment of riches so it’s more likely that they will freshen it up. The first alteration I’d look at is promoting Denis Bastick in place of Michael Darragh MacAuley alongside Brian Fenton; midfield is an area that Gavin has to look at and Michael Darragh would give more legs coming into the fray late on. Dublin are also crying out for a centre-forward who will link with the full-forward line.
The next one is possibly bringing in Paul Mannion who is a good strong player and has been impressive, and you could then keep Kevin McManamon in reserve. We all know the impact the latter is capable of making, much like Paddy Andrews who is surely being heavily considered from the get-go after his performance the last day and his display against Mayo last year.
The Dublin forward line didn’t click at all because Paul Flynn wasn’t great again, while Bernard Brogan was very quiet. Beforehand, I think we all expected Lee Keegan to tie up Diarmuid Connolly so going on form, it meant that Dean Rock was going to have to step up as he did against Kerry, but other than his late point it didn’t happen. The temptation for Gavin will be to make a switch here but even though the placed balls didn’t go too well for Rock this time, you need someone to take them against a Mayo side that averages conceding eight scoreable frees per game.
Gavin took the frees off of Bernard Brogan a couple of years ago and while the Plunkett’s man didn’t fire the last day, the likes of him and Flynn have delivered too often on the big day to be left off the starting 15. They have proven that they are big day players. I have a theory on why Brogan is so quiet and it centres on the performances of Ciaran Kilkenny. The wing-forward was made a hero because of his 52 possessions from wing-back against Donegal, but rarely this year has an end product come from it.
Then there’s all the talk of how Kilkenny wanted to play keep-ball with the sideline at the end when Connolly went for an insurance score to win the All-Ireland. That aside, I think there needs to be an attitude change with Kilkenny because what he’s doing reminds me of a soccer midfielder just playing it around for the sake of playing it. It’s all about possession and I don’t think it feeds into Gavin’s idea of fast flowing, attacking football. These stats people have a lot to answer for!
The knock-on effect is that I don’t know how Brogan is supposed to get into the game with the Castleknock man on the ball so often. How could he? As an inside forward, you love the ball coming in early and what Kilkenny should do is lift up his head, look inside, and find their main scoring threat instead of looking laterally and backwards. I’m certainly not saying Kilkenny should be dropped but he does need to reintroduce that threat to his game where he used to get two or three points per game.
Interestingly after the game, there were plenty of the Mayo lads talking to the media while the Dubs were quickly up the tunnel and out of the spotlight. That kind of thing makes a difference, because the side that gets the head down quicker and refocuses in the four or five days after a drawn clash will have an edge.
Rochford doesn’t have the same options up front as Gavin does, so it will be a case of making adjustments in how and where his Mayo team plays. Seamus O’Shea gave the ball away too often before he was substituted and I couldn’t believe it when I saw Keith Higgins gifting the ball three times in a row to the Dubs. A man of his pace and class should be bringing the ball upfield and taking lads on and winning frees, or giving it to the man in a better position.
This is what we have seen from Mayo down through the years, they panic when they get close to the finish line. They didn’t make the right decisions in the heat of battle but this team showed great resolve to get a draw from being three points down with normal time up.
The next debate for Mayo is Aidan O’Shea. Where do they start him? He is a serious threat inside but as I know too well, you can only be as good as the ball that is coming into you. Too often Mayo leave him in there on his own with two Dublin defenders; I would keep Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran in a triangle formation in close to him.
The quality of ball that is going into him is terrible; it’s too high or too long. Why not bounce a few in front of him as he has the sort of big frame that means no one would beat him to it? Or maybe a few nice diagonal kicks at head height? Aidan also needs to take more shots on in there when he does receive possession. He had two pops at goal the last day, not a great amount for a full-forward over 77 minutes. It is like trying the win the lotto, if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win it! Now he had very little support upfront near him because Cillian O’Connor spent too much time out the field trying to win ball. To my eyes, Mayo need their captain and main scoring threat inside with Moran sparking off O’Shea, and not doing the job that some other workhorse should do.
Mayo don’t create that fear factor when they attack as they don’t have enough options and support players heading towards goal. There are also times when Aidan O’Shea will be needed at centre-forward or midfield so Mayo will need an alternative option inside. Maybe Barry Moran or Jason Doherty, but whatever option they go with Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran need to be in the vicinity to pick off the scores.
Honestly, I’ve struggled with calling the replay, it’s not an easy decision. Who would have foreseen two own goals in the drawn game? People are saying that Dublin won’t play as badly again, but Mayo didn’t allow them to play. The way their defenders set up and tackled with huge intensity was immense.
Mayo also have the benefit of this being their third big replay in as many years so surely they will have learnt from the previous two. The Dubs’ performance level has dipped since the Leinster final so they will need to up the ante big time to secure Sam, but I’ll put my neck on the line and stick with Mayo for Sam.