Posted by Shane Stapleton
Thursday 19 September 2013
We ask our six eircom GAA ambassadors six key questions ahead of the All-Ireland final between Mayo and Dublin.
*All interviews conducted before teams were announced
What match-up is key on Sunday?
Stephen Cluxton’s kickout is a big part of Dublin’s game, and his freetaking ability as well. He’s lethal. The pace at which Dublin attack as well but Mayo have a few speed merchants too. The two best teams are in the final and you always like to see that at the end of the season. Michael Darragh Macauley and Aidan O’Shea mightn’t be direct opponents but it will be interesting to watch the contrasts of play within the middle of the field.
COLM 'GOOCH' COOPER
One of the areas I’m looking forward to seeing is the Mayo half-back line against the Dublin half-forward line. You have Paul Flynn and Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan and Ciaran Kilkenny, Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly. It will come down to a lot of individual battles but that’s one of the key ones I’m looking forward to.
Who will Dublin play at centre-back? Do they revert to the tried-and-trusted Ger Brennan and keep Cian O’Sullivan at midfield? Or do they move Cian O’Sullivan back centre half-back because he would have appeared to have done a better job on Colm Cooper than happened in the first half. But that’s not necessarily as accurate as that because Kerry were very dominant in the first half. And when Kieran Donaghy came on, they changed their style and didn’t go through The Gooch so much. So I wouldn’t rule out the fact that Ger Brennan will be there. If he is, his battle with Keith Higgins will be a big issue as well because Keith Higgins is a player who is very forceful going forward. Obviously there’s the marking of Bernard Brogan. People are forgetting about him saying he’s not in the form that he was in. I was very impressed with his form. The last day they played he had something like 13 attempts on goal. The rest of the Dublin forwards had 14 between them. That tells you the contribution he made on the day and people are saying he’s not as good as he was. I think he still takes some watching.
I think midfield is the key area. Both sets of players have had great seasons and whoever wins more ball in this area could go a long way to deciding the game. Cian O’Sullivan has been a revelation this season and Michael Darragh Macauley has been fantastic; he’s in the running with Aidan O’Shea for Footballer of the Year.
Midfield is key and it’s an area in which Mayo have been very strong all year. Some people might question Dublin’s midfield and say that Cian O’Sullivan might not be the biggest man but he is very mobile. There are some big match-ups in this sector.
The midfield battle is key because both Michael Darragh Macauley and Aidan O’Shea have been to the forefront of their teams’ success this year. Macauley has been superb going forward and creates goal chances; he keeps going for the 70 minutes. O’Shea’s influence has been massive but he plays in a more defensive role than Macauley, often dropping in behind his half-backs to protect the defence. O’Shea will be looking to cut off the runs of Macauley and also to win the kickout exchanges.
Which team needs to make changes and where?
Every time Dean Rock goes out he puts his hand up to be picked for the next day but Jim Gavin will say he’s very much in our Plan B and that has worked so far, so we’ll leave him in our Plan B. Dean Rock or Kevin McManamon mightn’t want to hear that but it has worked for them until now so they will probably continue to do that.
I don’t think they’re going to change too much. Dublin have been on the offensive all year and it’s served them very well. They’ve been one of the most exciting teams to watch, if not the most exciting team to watch. I think that’s the way they’ll go. Similarly, Mayo have been putting up huge scores and against Donegal they looked a team high in confidence. There’ll be question marks about how Mayo will be but I don’t think their style of play will change in any way.
I’m not sure either manager will want to make changes coming into the final. There’s been a lot of talk about goalkeepers coming back for Mayo but I think Rob Hennelly has had a fantastic year and he has popped up with some frees, so he probably deserves his place. Obviously Cillian O’Connor has a shoulder problem but it will be a huge boost if he is able to play; they have Michael Conroy back if he can’t.
I don’t think there will be any. Mayo will stick with Andy Moran because of the quality he has. He hasn’t hit his best form just yet since returning from injury but he has so much class, and his influence is needed.
The only change I can see would maybe be Philly McMahon for Kevin O’Brien in the full-back line. The Mayo forward line is not as formidable as Kerry’s so I think Ger Brennan will keep his place, while Keith Higgins will not play as an orthodox number 11 as Colm Cooper did. Cillian O’Connor starting might be a risk but I think it’s better to start him and see how he goes rather than putting him in with 20 minutes to go and not knowing what you’ll get.
Who will win that tactical battle and why?
James Horan is very clever on the line. I think he’ll win the tactical battle and Mayo will win the game. He’s been there for three years and they’ve learnt a lot in that time. They were unlucky last year in the sense that a 10-minute spell caught them out against Donegal. They were probably a little naive putting Kevin Keane on Michael Murphy but I think they will get their match-ups right this year.
We won’t really know until after the game. Dublin have had a very rigid and consistent approach all year, and that might make them somewhat predictable. It’s a sort of ‘you come and beat us’ approach. Mayo have shown more adaptability and you can see it with their half-backs, and in how Keith Higgins was only moved up to the forward line since the quarter-final meeting with Donegal. A lot of this will be about what Mayo do to counteract Dublin’s strengths, and Jim Gavin probably has an advantage in terms of the line-up he has. But they have to match the ferocious workrate of the Connacht side.
Both teams won their semi-finals after comebacks – is either side sitting in the driving seat because of their win?
I think the fact that both teams came from behind in their semi-finals will give them great confidence. It shows a little bit of resilience in their set-up. Coming into the last four or five minutes it will be down to who has the nerve to take advantage and who takes their chances. It will be hell for leather.
They both should have learned a good bit from the semi-final in that they were pushed to win and there were weaknesses exposed in their game plans. That’s better than doing it in a flamboyant way without much problem as Mayo had been doing up to that. It was plain sailing for Dublin up to the semi-final too apart from Meath. I think both of them will have learned from that. I think Dublin have to be a bit more aware of their defensive strategy. I’m not saying they’re gonna become ultra-defensive but they have to be more mindful of how porous they were in the first 25 minutes. They conceded 3-5 by half-time and should have conceded more. It’s a high-risk game they’ll be playing. Mayo probably took too long to settle down in the game and there can be various reasons why you think that happened, but I think we were pretty good for 30 minutes! They’re going to meet as good a 30 minutes from Dublin, that’s for sure and if Dublin have as good a 30 minutes as that, they might have more scores on the board than we had. They’ve all got plenty to think about and plenty to learn from their semi-final appearances and I’d say none of them are more advantaged than the other because of that.
The semi-finals are irrelevant because both teams won in the same fashion, with good second halves. Both were behind and came back so that won’t make any difference now.
I think Dublin because they will have taken a lot of belief from coming back against Kerry after conceding three goals. Mayo had it tough against Tyrone but always looked like they would pull away. Both can take confidence from their semi-final wins.
The only thing for Mayo is that they haven’t had to push themselves in the last 10 minutes because they have had the games sewn up. They have been ruthlessly efficient. Dublin have had to do that and were level with Kerry with just a minute to go. We don’t know if Mayo will fatigue with 10 minutes to go and perhaps the Dublin subs could have a big bearing on the game at that point — that’s where Jim Gavin’s side might have an edge.
What will either side have learned from last year’s semi-final win that they can use in this year’s final?
Publicly they’ll say it has no relevance but I’m sure it will be spoken about. You know, things that the teams might have learned from last year.
Probably not a whole lot but perhaps Dublin will be thinking of revenge. Mayo, on the other hand, will see it as a positive, along with their win in 2006, to show that they can beat the Dubs.
No, absolutely not. Everything from previous games is irrelevant because Dublin have a new manager, a new team, and a new plan. Mayo will believe they can win because of that game last year but Dublin gave them a couple of trimmings in the league.
Journalist Ken Early joked that Mayo aren’t good enough to lose seven All-Ireland finals in a row – but are there going to be any psychological issues?
There is a bit of baggage after going into another All-Ireland and not winning. I know there’s pressure on Dublin but I’d say there’s pressure because a good few of them have played in an All-Ireland final and lost. I thought they played some very good football last year. But I remember when they beat Dublin in ’06 in the semi-final, they were unbelievable and Ciarán McDonald was unbelievable, but they didn’t get up the heights of that for the final against Kerry. So there is a little bit of pressure on Mayo to land the big one.
I don’t think it does but it’s just the fact that people talk about it so much. I don’t know if the players will be psychologically scarred. The players that are playing at the moment, a lot of them played last year but before that, they hadn’t. So I don’t think they’ll be scarred or will freeze. They didn’t freeze last year either. It’s just that they had too much to do after the two early goals. They were very steady after that. So I think they’ll be fine.
It’s a strange thing. The players have a positive thinking, that comes through in their presence, the way they carry themselves and the way they speak in interviews, that they can do what others couldn’t. But they’re meeting people around the county and the country talking about how many All-Irelands Mayo have lost. You look at that two ways – you’ve been losing many All-Irelands but you’ve been involved in quite a few. There’s an awful lot of counties couldn’t say that, so you can turn that into a positive. At the same time, it’s gonna take a group of players somewhere to break through that barrier that’s been there since 1951. And until someone does that, it will still be an issue for them. If they did it once, they could have the monkey off their back but it’s not off their back just yet and somewhere deep inside them, it’s gonna be an issue for them. So unfortunately, I’d say it does have a significance of some kind, no matter how much they try to talk themselves out of that. Until they make the breakthrough, it will be there.
I just think Mayo will perform. They played really well for the most part last year but were just caught on the hop.
We’ll only find out if there are psychological issues once we get into the last quarter. I think Mayo will settle better than they did last year and I don’t expect a first-half collapse. The real test will come with 10 minutes to go. The benches are critical.
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