Posted by Ciarán Whelan
Sunday 2 September 2012
Despite their decent enough start I felt the writing was on the wall for Dublin on Sunday. They haven’t performed well all year considering the opposition they were up against.
And they didn’t play well for the first 45 minutes of the game against Mayo. It wasn’t a good enough effort to try and retain an All-Ireland title but I have to give Mayo great credit.
They’re a progressive side, they’ve been building for days like this under James Horan and they were top class in the opening period when all their forwards scored from play.
Cillian O’Connor was lethal from the dead ball and they kicked some fantastic scores. For Dublin the failures that have been evident all year were there again at Croke Park, particularly concerning the structure of the team.
I never agreed with playing three midfielders. Michael Dara Macauley drifted back around the middle of the park while Paul Flynn and Bryan Cullen dropped deep meaning that Dublin played a very defensive game.
They had no shape in their forward line and their half-forward line was practically non-existent. They were relying on Ciaran Kilkenny – who is a rookie – to play the Alan Brogan role, with Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan inside.
In fairness to Connolly he did kick two first-half points from play but Bernard struggled to get into the game. It was quite evident at the break that the forward shape needed to be improved and Pat Gilroy should have made the changes he did after 45 minutes at half-time.
He took a risk bringing in Alan when it was really Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara who were needed and Dublin found themselves ten points down ten minutes into the second half.
It’s very easy to get caught up looking at Dublin but I have to stand back from it and say that Mayo were excellent. They kicked some great scores, they were first to the breaking ball and they looked like the hungrier side.
But Dublin still deserve huge credit for the way they fought back in the second half. The charge was led by Macauley and Flynn and they almost made it a phenomenal turnaround.
Bernard did get that goal chance only for David Clarke to pull off a vital save to help prevent a miraculous comeback.
Mayo will be worried that for 20 minutes of the second half they went missing. They were cynical at times but they managed to hold on and they fell over the line on the end. When Dublin did get their shape right they were dominant in many areas of the field.
I wouldn’t be writing this Dublin team off just yet. We know how difficult it is to retain All-Ireland titles but I expect them to bounce back and regain their confidence.
It’s just a pity the changes weren’t made earlier because the team that finished the game looked far more balanced than the one that took to the field at the start. The ten minutes after half-time was the most crucial part of the game. Dublin had both Brogans in the full-forward line with one injured and the other off form.
Kilkenny and Connolly were now playing further out the field after they had kicked those scores earlier on and the Dublin set-up just wasn’t going to get them back into the game at that point.
There are so many ifs and buts, however, and it’s not to take away from Mayo who on balance were the better team.
There is a clear weakness there, though, that Jim McGuinness will focus in on in the build-up to the final. They found it very hard to stem the tide once Dublin started to dominate through Macauley. If Brogan had taken his goal chance it could have been one of the greatest collapses of all time.
But Barry Moran pulled an important ball out of the sky when it was most needed as did Jason Gibbons. In saying that, they have an awful lot of work to do ahead of the final.
Mayo will go into that game now with doubts in their minds, not unlike in other years. Donegal deserve to be favourites because they’ve displayed more consistency all year but you couldn’t argue that Horan’s side don’t merit their final spot.
For Dublin, Gilroy has taken this team to a great level and I think it’s in the best interest of Dublin football that he stays on. They need stability and I’ve certainly never been one for chopping and changing managers.
That bit of hurt on Sunday will spur him on to make up for it next year. There is still plenty of talent in this squad and I expect them to be back challenging for the title again with these players.
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