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Breaking down Paul Mannion's masterclass for Dublin against Mayo

The Kilmacud Crokes forward scored five points and was heavily involved in Dublin’s spell of dominance after half-time.

Paul Mannion shoots on goal Paul Mannion shoots on goal in the first-half. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

15 MINUTES INTO the biggest match of his life, Paul Mannion felt a pop and a sharp burn in his hamstring as he chased down a ball in the Dublin attack.

The game was the 2013 All-Ireland final and a 20-year-old Mannion was one of two young rookies brought into the team during Jim Gavin’s first year in charge. He gingerly made his way over to the sideline, replaced by Eoghan O’Gara in the full-forward line. 

Mannion watched on from the Dublin bench as his team-mates sealed a one-point win over Mayo to secure their first Sam Maguire under Gavin. 

Last Saturday night, Mannion had a slight limp as he left the fray in the 66th minute, but this time around his fingerprints were all over Dublin’s convincing 10-point defeat of the Westerners.

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Mannion was always a speed merchant, but he’s since added bulk and explosiveness to his 6’2″ frame. What’s most impressive is his economy in possession. In his younger days he was an erratic shooter, just as likely to balloon a ball wide as he was to split the posts. 

But like his team-mates, Mannion has become ruthlessly efficient in front of goal.

His five-point haul at the weekend arrived from six shots. He might be the best ball-striker in the country, achieving a clean connection every time he winds up to shoot. Dublin’s shots tend to come in the scoring zone around the D, but Mannion has the licence to shoot from wherever he sees fit.

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He’s Dublin’s top-scorer from play with 0-22 in six games, one ahead of Con O’Callaghan who has 4-9 to his name. Brian Fenton is back on 3-8 and the trio are the front-runners for the Footballer of the Year gong.

After Mayo delivered an almost perfect first-half, Dublin pillaged them for 2-6 in the 12 minutes after the interval.

On his 16 possessions, Mannion got himself on the ball seven times during that spell. It was a game-defining period of the game and he was directly involved in 1-4, while his run off the ball also helped create the space for Con O’Callaghan’s second goal.

He tackled his way through the early part of the game, got involved in a few physical confrontations but went a long time without actually feeling the weight of the ball.

Mannion had yet to touch it by the 14th minute, when Rob Hennelly’s overhit hand-pass was turned over by Ciaran Kilkenny. Rather than clogging up the middle channel, he provided width for Dublin on the left flank, knowing there was a good chance the ball would eventually be worked back over to his side.

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As they tend to do, Dublin initially probed on the right but Mayo had the area congested with bodies.

Brian Howard jinked inside to change the direction of the attack. Niall Scully peeled off his shoulder and expertly drew Seamie O’Shea before slipping a pass into Mannion, who by now had found himself inexplicably unmarked inside the 21. 

Mannion blazed his shot on goal over the bar, providing an early warning sign for Mayo. 

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O’Callaghan got a touch on the resultant kick-out, and Mannion bounced on the break. He fired over off his right from inside the D. Two touches, two scores. 

Mannion’s hunger for work is the most underrated aspect of his game. In the opening 20 minutes, he’d registered more tackles than touches. When Chris Barrett soloed past the midfield, James Carr looked to create a gap on the left for his team-mate to run into. 

The majority of corner-forwards would be content to follow Carr’s run, but Mannion recognised the danger and immediately pushed up on Barrett, forcing him to play a lateral pass. 

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A potentially dangerous Mayo counter-attack was shut down at its source and they were forced to recycle the ball backwards with Dublin now set-up defensively. 

He made five tackles in total, four of them arriving in the first-half.

Mannion hit a wide off his right in the second quarter and by the end of the half the momentum appeared to be firmly swinging in Mayo’s favour. Michael Darragh Macauley fetched a kick-out but fouled Diarmuid O’Connor after he came to ground and a hop ball was awarded. 

Mayo won the throw-up and within seconds Paddy Durcan was clipping over his second score of the day to push them three in front. It’s in these moments where Dublin’s greatness becomes apparent. Stephen Cluxton planted a kick-out 70 metres onto the chest of Scully, who funnelled the ball up to Mannion.

The Kilmacud Crokes ace over hit a long kick-pass into Rock, but he made up for it by winning the vital breaking ball on the next kick-out and Howard reduced the gap to two points by the break. 

Mannion was heavily involved in Dublin’s utterly commanding third quarter spell. He did well to gather a low delivery from Macauley, starting the move for O’Callaghan’s 37th-minute goal.

For Niall Scully’s goal chance that he fired over the bar, Mannion had three separate possessions in the move. One of the scores of the game arrived next. The 26-year-old took a pass from Davy Byrne, hopped and soloed the ball before curling over a stunning effort from his ‘wrong’ side.

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Mayo were gasping for air by now and Dublin were intent on keeping their head under water. Fenton claimed a mark, popped the pass into O’Callaghan who then transferred it into Mannion.

Another score, this one from an extremely narrow angle. In the seven minutes after half-time, Mannion had as many touches (six) as he did in the entire opening period. 

For Dublin’s second goal in the 46th minute, Mannion and O’Callaghan were both left one-on-one inside as Kilkenny stood over a free from midfield. Without a sweeper in front of them, the pair made intelligent runs in opposite directions, stretching Mayo’s last line of defence.

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The Cuala star was the target and he coolly dispatched into the bottom corner. 

The confidence oozing through his veins by now, Mannion’s fifth and final point was a work of art. Picked out by a Niall Scully pass under the Hogan Stand, the number 13 soloed twice in front of Harrison, had a look at the posts and struck over a glorious point. 

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In Dublin’s devastating 12-minute spell after the interval where they turned a two-point deficit into a 10-point lead, Mannion was at the forefront. He had seven possessions, scored three points and was involved in a further 1-1. 

He touched the ball just three further times before his 66th-minute withdrawal. Dublin were content to play keep-ball by that stage and run the clock down.

Mannion’s work was done. Once he and his team-mates caught fire in that devastating period after half-time, Mayo didn’t have a prayer. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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