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Dublin preparing for Stephen Rochford to pull another rabbit out of the hat on Sunday

Jim Gavin’s right-hand man Declan Darcy says they’re expecting the unexpected.

NO TEAM EPITOMISES the evolution of Gaelic football more than Dublin.

Declan Darcy and Jim Gavin Declan Darcy and Jim Gavin in 2013 Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Back in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, Jim Gavin’s side were stung by a devastating counter-attacking Donegal side who took advantage of holes in the Dublin defence.

Nowadays, the Dubs will leave two defenders occupying the half-back line when they attack, and they’re happy to patiently play the ball back and forth across a blanket defence waiting for an opening to appear.

They avoid bringing the ball into contact and always have two options for the man in possession. That style of play helped them dissect Tyrone’s blanket in Croke Park last month, in a game where Dublin were out of sight by half-time.

The sort of defensive system employed by Mickey Harte’s team is no longer troubling for Dublin, who’ve worked relentlessly on rendering mass defences extinct.

“My reading on that would be that that initial set-up was to target against certain teams that weren’t used to playing against that and it was very effective,” explains Dublin selector Declan Darcy.

“Now teams have got well used to playing against that system and are better at it. And that had evolved. I think managers now will have to think differently as to how to break that.

“If you go to club matches right throughout the country you will see this throughout. It has been a phase of our games, which is probably a good thing in way, now whether it will continue or not I don’t know.

Declan D'Arcy and Bernard Dunne Declan Darcy and fellow backroom team member Bernard Dunne Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“But at the same time the more you play against it the better you get used to playing it and then you understand it. The key thing is, the more you understand that phase of play the more you understand it and I think players now have begun to see what way it works and how to break it down.”

Mayo will provide an altogether different proposition on Sunday. Stephen Rochford is unlikely to play a sweeper and will instead look to occupy Cian O’Sullivan and prevent him from dropping in front of his full-back.

“We evolve rapidly,” continues Darcy. “And every year it changes dramatically. There were things thrown at us from a tactical point of view, which is fantastic, I love that bit and I think the players now enjoy that piece.

“It’s not just a game of football, there’s tactics, there’s oppositions, how they set out and how they play. It’s really important now they get that piece and if they get that right and understand their opposition then they are better equipped to handle what they can throw at them.”

Mayo's Stephen Rochford Mayo boss Stephen Rochford Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Aidan O’Shea is likely to find himself back at centre-forward on Sunday, with his remit to engage O’Sullivan at leave space for Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty to work with inside.

That full-forward trio have been in devastating form, and they tore Kerry to shreds in the two All-Ireland semi-finals.

Darcy, who has been Gavin’s right-hand man since his days as U21 manager, hinted that they’re preparing for Mayo to pull another rabbit out of the hat on Sunday.

“Stephen Rochford the last day, I thought it was a fantastic move for him to put Aidan O’Shea at full back,” continued Darcy. “It was different. Players like that as well, to be challenged.

“And the game needs to see different thing, sure everybody was talking after five minutes ‘what’s Aidan O’Shea doing in on Donaghy?’ It’s different and people like that.

“For any team to evolve they have to think outside the box sometimes to get the tactics right and put the other team on the back foot.

“Their form might not be as predictable – they are likely maybe to do something against us.

“But we’ll prepare again, we’ll watch what they have done, but we can’t legislate for what they are going to do but we’ll prepare as best we can for what they might throw at us. They still only have 15 players on the pitch at the end of the day.”

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