ASKED BEFORE THE game could Mayo win, I honestly believed they could. When asked how they could win I was short on answers. This team have been good enough to be at the top table, so why not.
This game felt more like a hurling match in the way Anthony Daly described it: “Sure look, hurling. A thousand mad things and someone comes out on top.” Except after all the madness we have to go again.
Mayo will lament the two own goals and it is hard to fathom how unlucky that is. But the reality is that the two goals came from two clear goal-scoring chances. The first is from a kickout where Mayo push up and get caught. A warning to all those who feel like it’s a simple black and white decision on Dublin’s kickouts.
Four Mayo players in midfield were cleared with the kick and Dublin suddenly had acres to run into. Brian Fenton makes a lovely driving run and gets on the end of a decent goal chance. The ball bobbles about, but make no mistake this is a goal chance. So Mayo can feel aggrieved about how the ball ended up in the net but Dublin created the opportunity on merit.
Similarly, with the second goal. This felt like a training ground move. Dublin’s three inside forwards all group together. Keep an eye on Bernard Brogan who is the furthest Dublin player forward at this moment, and his position at the end of the move.
Kevin McLoughlin is in as sweeper but strangely ends up outside the left hand post when the free is taken. For me he should be in the middle of the two Mayo defenders.
McLoughlin seems a bit distracted with Kevin McManamon and because of the Dublin movement Mayo have left too much space in behind them. McLoughlin needs to be more central here and aware of the fact that he is now the furthest man back for Mayo.
It’s a well worked move by Dublin. McManamon and Brogan have ended up 40 yards from goal but have managed to isolate Dean Rock on Colm Boyle inside. It’s a pure fluke how the ball ends up in the net but again Mayo let Dublin get that far and on another day Rock could have caught that ball and calmly stuck it away.
And not long after the first goal Dublin were through again. Rock is in a great position inside for a pass but Fenton takes the shot on.
The two own goals were bizarre, but in both cases Mayo won’t be delighted with how they defended.
On the balance I felt Mayo got their strategy on Dublin’s kickouts right. They pushed up enough and while they did little to dent Cluxton’s win-rate they still caused enough problems. The stats will show that Cluxton and Dublin had pretty good day winning 18 from 22 of their own kickouts but Mayo made them work to get that ball forward.
From the very first kickout we could see the sort of pressure Mayo wanted to apply. Johnny Cooper catches the ball but immediately has Aidan O’Shea and Andy Moran breathing on him.
It’s not so much man-to-man coverage as they want to keep a sweeper back but as soon as the opportunity arises the Mayo players are there to put pressure on.
Again early in the first half you can see how Mayo wanted to defend the kickouts. John Small wins the kickout.
He lays it back to McMahon who drops deep to get the pass.
Mayo have committed men. Although Dublin have won the kickout it’s not as if Mayo dropped off. Donegal against Dublin pushed up initially and then retreated. Kerry pushed up at times but in reality were happy to let teams get to their own 45 before engaging them. Mayo were a bit more aggressive.
What I really like here is how O’Shea doesn’t just try and jog up to McMahon and meet him head on. That would still leave McMahon with options left and right.
Instead he takes a step inside and wants to give McMahon the line and cut off an inside pass.
O’Shea allows himself get level with McMahon before pouncing. McMahon has very few options now, other than trying to beat him for pace. O’Shea has forced him into an area that’s easier to defend.
Unfortunately, in both cases O’Shea gave away a free when he had Dublin in trouble. A little more discipline and Mayo could have had a very different outcome in both cases.
This sort of work can be difficult to keep up for 70+ minutes but Mayo did it often enough to slow Dublin down and frustrate them. In the second half there is a great example of both the strategy and effort Mayo were putting onto Cluxton’s kickouts.
Mayo’s three inside forwards are high and everyone is marked. (This was when Kevin McManamon was subbed, so more time to get set). But Cluxton is looking for options and eventually goes wide to John Small. Aidan O’Shea is not content to stay with Davy Byrne, he is already taking off to pressure the ball.
Small has little time to think and even Cillian O’Connor has started to drift over. Unfortunately, O’Shea lets him out too easy. It’s not a case of lack of effort on O’Shea’s part, far from it. He has made great effort and decisions in all three examples here but the final tackle has let him down a bit.
Dublin get the ball back to Davy Byrne and switch the ball.
But it’s almost 20 seconds later and Dublin haven’t left their 45. The stats will show that Dublin won this kickout, but look at the initial pressure Small is under. And at no stage have Dublin had an easy ride to launch an attack.
This strategy can work really well if you get the pressure right. Accept that Cluxton is going to find a man more often than not, but can you decide where he finds that pocket of space and have a strategy of what next. Many sports talk about phases. Mayo looked excellent on the second phase of kickouts on Sunday. Something they no doubt will want to replicate in the replay.
Dublin converted six from 22 scoring chances from play. A quick look back through Dublin games and in the infamous 0-8 to 0-6 game in 2011 they shot two from 13 that day. Dublin’s poor shooting or Mayo pressure? Pressure can be a very subjective thing to measure but in looking through the Dublin shots it looks 50-50. On about half the Dublin shots there was decent pressure from Mayo.
Teams are at their most open when being hit on the counter and Mayo coughed a few up. Here McManamon puts his head down and how often have we seen him just burst past players but Durcan does a great job to slow him down. Keegan leaves Connolly for a few seconds while Boyle looks to fill in at sweeper.
When McManamon turns back inside it’s Keegan he meets as Mayo get their house in order.
Dublin work the ball back to Connolly and his Siamese twin Keegan rejoins him.
But Mayo are now all set. They have three men over and this was a pretty good opportunity for Dublin on the counter. There is little point having everyone back if nobody gets pressure on the ball but that is what Mayo do brilliantly.
Connolly gets inside Keegan for a second but Donal Vaughan steps into that space. Connolly sidesteps him but is met by Seamus O’Shea who’s next up. Keegan and Vaughan are both beaten but Mayo are committed to allowing no space.
Seamus gets the block on and Mayo launch an attack. It happened time and again. Dublin found a few inches only for Mayo to close the door again.
This ferocity and sheer bloody-mindedness is not without skill and good coaching. But it does take a massive amount of willpower to sustain for 70+ minutes.
I’ll finish with a stat. In the five Dublin games before Sunday, Dublin had lost possession in the tackle 13 times. Thirteen in five games. On Sunday they were turned over nine times in the tackle. Even accounting for the weather it shows the ferocity and tackling that Mayo brought. For contrast, Mayo had given away 50 in seven games. They lost the ball just six times in the tackle on Sunday, under the same conditions.
While everyone will point to the fact that it is hard to see Dublin playing that poorly again, Mayo won’t have walked off that pitch thinking they gave a perfect performance.
Both teams will see areas to improve but there is no doubt that any drop-off in Mayo’s tackling and pressure won’t be good enough. That’s the minimum they will need to bring the next day and maybe the next time they can find a goal in the right net.
The42 is on Snapchat! Tap the button below on your phone to add!