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Dublin: 9°C Monday 30 November 2020

How to throw away a 14-point lead and still win in four easy steps

Emmet Ryan dissects the extraordinary meeting of Dublin and Mayo at GAA HQ yesterday.

Dublin’s victory over Mayo in Croke Park yesterday was a bizarre battle in which mental errors saw Pat Gilroy’s side cheaply throw away a double-digit lead before rallying to win comfortably. Emmet Ryan looks at how Dublin eventually won 4-15 to 3-13.

Step one: Mayo’s defenders miss all of their assignments

Diarmuid Connolly may never score an easier hat-trick. The St Vincent’s man showed tremendous poise in finishing his first two goals while the move for the third was a thing of beauty. Darren Daly’s long ball in was perfectly positioned for Connolly to punch but the full forward really had it far too easy in each of the three scores.

Mayo’s full back Chris Barrett may not be a towering presence but one man’s lack of height does not excuse the woeful positioning by the entire full-back line in each of Dublin’s four goals. Time and again players missed assignments, leaving men unmarked in space and missing tackles or simply not being in position to make a tackle. The error strewn showing resulted in a calamitous opening phase of the game for Mayo and after 22 minutes Dublin had deservedly raced into a 4-4 to 0-2 lead.

Step two: Dublin’s defence pushes too high, loses bodies

In order to understand how Mayo came back into the game, we need to understand how Dublin’s defence operates. The swarm system deployed by Pat Gilroy is about more than just creating a numbers advantage at the back. The objective is to use this numbers advantage to reduce the space to score and move the ball, forcing players into either taking low percentage shots or turn the ball over. This in turn enables quick breaks from defence to counter-attack.

As Dublin’s advantage increased, the defensive lines pushed higher up the field. This meant Dublin switched from creating 5 on 3 and 6 on 4 situations into a series of 1 on 1 match-ups. The higher lines also meant Mayo’s forwards had far more room to operate and they exploited it well. It was a particular unintelligent adjustment in defensive strategy given that Mayo, while admittedly sluggish going forward early, hadn’t show the same lack of fundamental coordination in attack as they had at the back.

Step three: Dublin’s forwards go for the non-existent killer score

As Mayo cut the deficit, to eight points at half time, and subsequently four points through their second goal, and then a single point before finally drawing level, Dublin’s forwards made a series of bad decisions. First there were the repeated efforts to create goal scoring chances out of moves where safe points were on. The collective mentality seemed to be that a fifth or sixth goal would be the psychological blow that would kill off the visitors’ comeback. Given that the previous four goals had done little to stop Mayo from trying to score this was an irrational and counter-productive approach when comfortably padding the lead would have been more effective.

Then there were the attempts by players to go it alone and go for long-range efforts when maintaining possession and finding an open man would have been better. Connolly, when the lead was four, and Alan Brogan, when just a point separated the sides, both tried such attempts from terrible positions in an effort to kick start a resurgence.

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Brogan’s effort was a low-percentage shot from the sideline when there were options inside while Connolly lost his footing as adjusted his movement to shoot in traffic. The Vincent’s man had a particularly odd day. Having started off scoring for fun, his performance in the middle 30 minutes left a lot to be desired, with some horrible distribution and movement before righting himself in the final 20 minutes.

Step four: Gilroy’s men hit the reset button, all is well

Once Mayo actually drew level, Dublin quickly reverted to playing their conventional game again. The defence dropped deeper, creating numerical mismatches and limiting scoring chances. Dublin found it easier to break up-field and while lacking the ease of the early stages, more efficient passing helped create relatively straightforward scoring opportunities. After Mayo pulled level at 4-8 to 3-11, Dublin outscored their opponents 0-7 to 0-2 in the final 25 minutes. Having sought out a mental killer blow for so long, resorting to the play that gave them a big lead in the first place was all Dublin needed to secure the win.

The verdict

When Dublin actually played the game they practice and look to impose on opponents, they were unquestionably the better side. Over 47 minutes of player, in the opening 22 minutes and the final 25 minutes, Dublin out-scored Mayo 4-11 to 0-4. That’s kind of advantage highlights just how foolish Gilroy’s charges were to lose focus and with it their shape.

Repeated errors by Dublin, at both ends of the field, allowed Mayo back into the game either side of half-time and that led to the hosts making hard work of what should have been a facile victory. There are bigger games ahead but Dublin’s players need to work on their concentration as a swarm tactic requires unyielding discipline for the full 70 minutes. As for Mayo, the picture is grim based on this performance but not one that can’t be fixed. Mistakes in defence put them in a big hole early. Reducing the error count would go a long way to making this a more competitive outfit. The bigger challenge may come up front as it will be difficult for the attack to really make a breakthrough until Mayo’s forwards learn to better deal with tight spaces.

This post first appeared at Action81

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Emmet Ryan

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