Posted by Christy O'Connor
Wednesday 28 September 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
Before the drawn All-Ireland final, when Mayo emerged from their dressing room just seconds after the Dublin players had begun filtering through the tunnel, there was always the potential for friction. Dublin were heading towards the bench for the squad photograph but many of the Mayo players took off in that direction too. Aidan O’Shea and Michael Darragh MacAuley got entangled in a scrape. Then Keith Higgins gave MacAuley a dig. Most of the Dublin players had their backs to the commotion by that stage but a group of Mayo players had circled MacAuley. Even before a ball was kicked, Mayo had sent out a message; this time was going to be different; this time, Mayo were not going to back down.
Mayo didn’t blink but the general feeling afterwards was, and still is, that Mayo will never get a better chance. Dublin looked like a team that had been shocked by Mayo’s intensity. Dublin were poor but they still didn’t lose the match. “I think Mayo have blown it,” said Jim McGuinness immediately afterwards. McGuinness was just as emphatic in his Irish Times column on Tuesday. “My sense is that the element of momentum is with Dublin,” wrote McGuinness. “I think Dublin are going to win because they will look to return to their own values and when they play the game with real tempo, underpinned by those values, then they bring a relentlessness to the number of questions they ask.”
Dublin still asked a lot of questions of Mayo two weeks ago. In total, Dublin had 325 possessions. Mayo had 247. Dublin had five more shots at the target. Mayo conceded two own goals. Mayo didn’t raise a green flag. With those numbers, Dublin should definitely have won. Dublin may not have hit Mayo with their best shots but they took whatever Dublin could summon, including two killer sucker punches, and Mayo still didn’t go down.
Dublin’s general stats were still nowhere near their normal levels, primarily because of the weather and the heat Mayo consistently put on their players throughout the match. Dublin only converted 6 of 23 scoring chances from play, a conversion rate of 29%. Yet Tyrone’s conversion rate in the All-Ireland quarter-final was just 39%. That was on a dry and sunny day but struggling to score against Mayo is clearly a pattern.
Dublin and Tyrone had enough chances to hurt Mayo but the pressure Mayo put on the shooters has contributed to such low scoring returns against them. Mayo are not set up ultra defensively but when they are defending as a group, they are working extremely hard, and are difficult to break down.
Dublin did manage three goal chances in the opening 20 minutes two weeks ago. Most of that damage came down the left flank through Brian Fenton but that was largely down to poor decision-making and miscommunication rather than any tactical meltdown. In any case, Mayo soon got it sorted. And Dublin didn’t create any more goal chances after the 21st minute.
Prior to this season, in All-Ireland semi-finals and finals against Dublin, Donegal and Kerry in the last four years, Mayo conceded 13 goals in six games. There needed to be a greater emphasis on group defending and there has been. The two-own goals originated from good Dublin goal scoring positions but – if you take out those two scores – Mayo have conceded just three goals in eight championship matches this summer.
There is a different edge to Mayo now too. They are fitter. Stronger. Dublin’s athleticism and pace gives them an edge. Their bench is a key weapon, especially with most matches now lasting 78 minutes. Yet Mayo had the legs to stick with Dublin and not allow Dublin get a run on them in the last quarter, the period when the Leinster champions inflict the deepest wounds on the opposition. Mayo’s work rate and intensity was consistent and solid all through. Mayo made more tackles (68-60).
Dublin struggled to deal with Mayo’s defensive set up. Five of their six forwards underperformed. Lee Keegan clearly sacrificed his game to tie up Diarmuid Connolly. Kevin McLoughlin was very effective as the sweeper, having the second highest tackle-count, but his positioning and reading of the game, without the ball, did impact on the supply going into the Dublin attack. Bernard Brogan had 15 possessions but he only managed to get off two shots, none of which were converted.
After coming off the bench, Paddy Andrews was Dublin’s most effective forward. Overall, Mayo had more consistent performers but John Small and Brian Fenton were still the two outstanding players on the pitch. Small made 34 plays and kicked a decisive late score. Fenton made 32 plays. He could have had two goals only for two brilliant David Clarke saves but Fenton also kicked a crucial point in the second half when Dublin desperately needed a score. Getting a handle of Fenton is a priority now for Mayo. Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons and Donie Vaughan all did stints on Fenton two weeks but he is too good to be just ‘passing on’.
Dublin have their own areas of concern to address. After converting 39 out of 43 placed balls prior to the drawn game, Dean Rock only nailed one of his first five attempts. Ciaran Kilkenny was Dublin’s best forward, making more plays than anyone else (51). He had to go wing-back after James McCarthy’s black card, and while he always gets on a lot of ball, does he penetrate enough? Does Kilkenny hold up the ball too much? On the other hand, Kilkenny repeatedly waits for the right moment to try and initiate a lot of attacks. And he had 12 possessions in the last seven minutes because he was the guy looking to take responsibility. He wanted to hold on to the ball for that late side-line too, and protect possession, until Diarmuid Connolly prised it from Kilkenny’s grasp.
Having 12 turnovers in the first half hurt Mayo. Their shot-conversion rate of 60% needs to be higher but it was decent in the conditions. Just as importantly, it was devastating when the need was greatest, nailing six points from their first eight shots after the break. Mayo actually made less plays (31-36) in that ten-minute period but it was Mayo’s most efficient period of the match. Maybe Dublin had dropped off in that period after being five ahead at half-time because they also failed to score from three attempts in that ten-minute spell.
Three of those five unanswered points came from Mayo defenders pushing up the pitch aggressively. When Mayo got level, Paul Earley made the point (in his Sky Sports co-commentary) that Mayo needed to now adopt the mentality that they are still five points behind, “and go at Dublin”. They didn’t but if Mayo get Dublin on the back foot again on Saturday, that’s the time to drop the hammer on them.
Two other main areas of focus Mayo will have for Saturday will be to get more out of Aidan O’Shea, and on how to deal with Cian O’Sullivan as the Dublin sweeper. Of O’Shea’s nine second half plays, none were made close to goal. Mayo couldn’t get the ball into O’Shea when he was inside. Only one of the five long balls kicked into O’Shea in the first half had a productive outcome.
O’Sullivan’s presence was a factor but Mayo surely won’t push up on O’Sullivan on Saturday, largely because it condenses the space inside. Mayo also enjoyed some success when O’Sullivan was drawn out of the pocket and ran at. Jason Doherty got past him three times, one of which was a score, another a narrow wide.
Mayo ran at Dublin more in the second half but O’Shea could profit on long ball if Mayo can draw O’Sullivan away from his orbit. They could also try and concoct something on the training ground to get O’Shea through on goal on a long kick. O’Shea also needs to create that potential environment with his movement.
Getting more players to the drop zone when the ball is kicked long into their attack, especially the full-forward line, is another area Mayo need to address. Given how Mayo set up, that is largely a numbers game. Yet Dublin still outnumbered Mayo 3-1, or 4-2 when the ball dropped because the half-forwards found it hard to chase aggressively enough with so much space between them and the full-forward line. Mayo will need more scores from their half-forward line to get the result.
They also need to cut down on turnovers. They had 12 alone in the first half. Dublin’s scores came off turnovers (1-6), the Dublin kickout (1-1) and Mayo kickouts (0-2). Of that total of 2-9, 1-5 effectively came from giveaways, not from Dublin dispossessing Mayo in the tackle, but from poor unforced errors. Will Mayo cough up that much easy possession again on Saturday?
The drawn game highlighted how tactically flexible Mayo can be now but they will need to be even more flexible again on Saturday, especially with the Dublin attack likely to fire better than they did in the drawn game.
Dublin can be better. Dublin will be better. But so will Mayo. Now, it’s down to who will blink first.
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Dublin to win: 42%
Mayo to win : 56%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games !
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