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Dublin's misfiring forwards, young leaders and confidence issues

5 key questions for Jim Gavin to ponder after Sunday’s drawn All-Ireland final.

1. Will Dublin’s forwards misfire so badly again?

WE’LL LET THE statistics do the talking here. No Dublin player had scored after 29 minutes and just two starting forwards managed to affect the scoreboard in the entire game.

Diarmuid Connolly with Lee Keegan Source: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Kevin McManamon, scoreless, was the first attacker called ashore after 45 minutes. Paul Flynn had one shot on goal in the first half, which trailed off wide and was pretty much anonymous after that.

Dean Rock left his shooting boots at home. He kicked four wides and dropped two short, and the usually accurate dead ball shooter left three frees and a 45 behind him. Bernard Brogan had his quietest ever All-Ireland final, although he did have a hand in the first goal which Kevin McLoughlin turned into his own net. Otherwise he had two shots at the posts, one went wide and another fell short by about 20m.

Diarmuid Connolly and Lee Keegan pretty much entertained one another for the afternoon, which meant the St. Vincent’s forward had little impact on the proceedings. Ciaran Kilkenny was Dublin’s busiest attacker but he was guilty of a bad wide in the first-half, and reverted to wing-back after 25 minutes.

Nine Dublin forwards took 22 shots between them, scoring 0-7. That says it all.

Jim Gavin before the game Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

2. Who does Jim Gavin start for the replay?

The big question for Jim Gavin is whether he’ll opt for a radical overhaul of his forward unit, or trust them to bounce back. Two players who’ll certainly come into the reckoning to start the replay are Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion.

Andrews scored two wonderful points after his arrival off the bench, while Mannion looked lively and dangerous but found himself a little too far out from goal to really trouble Mayo.

After finally making the parade on All-Ireland final day, McManamon could find himself back on the bench for the replay. Brogan will also come under significant pressure, having endured his third quiet day out in a row. He’s scored just two points in his last three games against Donegal, Kerry and now Mayo.

Every Mayo defender had the measure of their man, so unless Gavin rotates his attack they risk suffering the same fate in a fortnight.

Philip McMahon and Diarmuid O’Connor Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

3. Is Dublin’s confidence knocked?

Monday mornings spent picking apart Dublin’s performance and searching for positives are a rarity. The question on everybody’s lips today: Surely Dublin can’t be as bad again, can they?

This is the first competitive game Gavin’s men have failed to win all season. They scored just five points from play, threw away a five-point half-time lead and let a three point advantage slip in injury-time. This isn’t the Dublin team we’re used to.

Who can we say for certain played well in a blue jersey? Jonny Cooper, John Small, Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and, for a spell, Paddy Andrews. That leaves a lot of Dublin players with a bruised ego and a point to prove. A dangerous combination.

John Small and Ciaran Kilkenny with Colm Boyle Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

4. How important are the young leaders in blue?

It’s often the case on All-Ireland final day, that an unheralded player steps up on the big occasion and makes his mark. Paul Murphy (Kerry) and Kieran Joyce did it in 2014, while Shane O’Donnell was the hero in 2013.

John Small was Dublin’s best player. He led the charge from the half-back line and managed to pick off a point after another one of those trademark sidesteps. Brian Fenton is still the leading contender for Footballer of the Year and he was a constant presence around the middle third, while Ciaran Kilkenny was Dublin’s deep-lying playmaker and constantly put his hand up for possession.

Small, Fenton and Kilkenny (all 23-years-old), all stood up and took the fight to Mayo when so many more experienced players around them were crumbling.

James McCarthy after being black carded Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

5. Is their bench as strong as we thought?

We all know by know how these sort of games involving Dublin are supposed to play out. A tight 55 minutes, followed by a big impact from their bench to see them over the line in the final quarter. But where were Gavin’s reinforcements on Sunday?

The Dubs are supposedly experts in closing out games, but they looked out on their feet at the death as Mayo tagged on three unanswered scores to secure a rematch. The Westerners were long suspected as the only team in Ireland who can rival Dublin’s athleticism.

Matching Dublin’s physicality and fitness meant that Mayo didn’t wilt in the closing stages, and suggests that Gavin’s bench isn’t as formidable as we thought.

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Sky Sports News reporter refers to Dublin v Mayo as ‘the All-England final’

‘We’re just looking for consistency. That certainly wasn’t out there today.’

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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