Sport

Philip Jordan: Mayo haven't missed the All-Ireland boat

Mayo's Jason Doherty drives past Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan during last Sunday's drawn All-Ireland final at Croke Park
Picture by Colm O'Reilly 

HOW do you start to work out what happened in last Sunday’s All-Ireland final?

It was one of the strangest games I’ve watched in a long time, but I found it hugely absorbing and enjoyable to watch. The game had own goals, numerous debates over black cards, no Dublin player scoring for almost an entire half, mistakes galore and a nailbiting finish. We should never complain when we have so many talking points. 

Mayo started the game brilliantly and they totally outworked Dublin in the early stages. They were winning all the 50/50 challenges, overturned Dublin in possession and were getting accurate, early ball inside to Aidan O’Shea and Andy Moran. The Mayo defence were superb throughout, with Dublin’s forward line contributing just two points from play.

However, they will regret lapses of concentration that cost them dearly, especially in the opening half. To see an own goal in football is a rarity, but for a team to concede two in the one game must be a first. It would be easy to just say the goals were bad luck, but the Mayo management will not be happy with their defending in the build-up.

For the first, a lack of concentration allowed Brian Fenton in behind the Mayo defence for a one-on-one opportunity with David Clarke. The second came from a brilliant ball over the top from Diarmuid Connolly. However, Stephen Rochford will be disappointed with the lack of pressure out the field and the poor positioning of Colm Boyle inside.

You couldn’t blame anyone from Mayo if they really do believe in this curse which is meant to be stopping them from winning an All-Ireland. One thing for certain though is that the players do not lack belief in themselves. They had so many chances to concede defeat during the game, but they just refused to give up.

The two goals were body blows and left them facing a five-point deficit at half-time. They fought back to level pegging in the second-half from that five-point deficit and again after going two points behind. However, this Mayo team have shown consistently they do not lack bottle when it comes to the big moments in matches.

They might not have landed the biggest prize of all, but I’ve always believed that has been down to them getting beat by better teams rather than any mental fragility within their ranks. I thought a Dublin victory was inevitable when they went three points ahead entering the last few minutes. The mental resolve Mayo showed in the closing stages to earn a replay was superb.

Dublin’s strength in depth is the big advantage they have over every other team in the country. There isn’t any other team that could lose players of the quality of Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey and still look like champions-elect. However, their defence has not been as solid in 2016 as a result.

Aidan O’Shea and Andy Moran had them in real trouble when they got quality ball inside. It’s not often we’ve seen Johnny Cooper and Philly McMahon struggle defensively, but they didn’t have Cian O’Sullivan providing his usual cover as he was forced to mark for long periods of the game.

O’Shea didn’t make the best use of the possession he won though, as he carried the ball into contact too often. It’s something most players try to avoid in the game now and, in the wet conditions, it meant he was turned over several times. It was a bad day for the O’Shea family as Séamus had a day to forget, constantly giving the ball away when under little pressure.

Mayo's Alan Dillon gets away from Dublin's John Small at Croke Park    
Picture by Séamus Loughran 

Two poor decisions he made proved crucial when the game was in the balance entering the last 20 minutes. An aimless shot from 45 metres out eventually led to Brian Fenton putting Dublin 2-5 to 0-10 ahead and, moments later, a poor fist pass resulted in the Dubs going two points clear.

There’s no denying the Mayo players knew how big a task they faced in beating Dublin. They looked anxious in possession as they knew a turnover could allow Dublin to counter-attack. Any time they got within shooting distance, there was an element of panic as they knew just how important every score was. I think that is what makes their late comeback all the more impressive. Last Sunday’s game should allow them to grow in confidence so that we see a more ruthless attitude in attack. 

Dublin looked mentally and physically drained for the majority of last weekend’s game. We have become accustomed to them dominating teams physically, with the power and pace of their play. Mayo were able to slow them down in attack and, as the game wore on, they seemed to run out of ideas. They looked laboured in their build-up, there was a lack of support runners and their movement inside was poor.

Mayo are the first team to match them physically and, last Sunday, they were able to ask questions of Dublin that so many teams trying to retain Sam fail to answer. Diarmuid Connolly’s decision to shoot from a sideline ball with 40 seconds left was a really poor decision. All that was needed was for him to play it short and Dublin could have eaten up the clock by playing keep ball.

Considering Dublin are such an experienced team, it was shocking that nobody within the team showed the leadership to take control of the situation and ensure they retained possession. It cost Dublin an All-Ireland title last Sunday and they will live to regret it if they lose the replay.

Mayo were the better team throughout the match and would have been deserving winners. I don’t believe they missed their chance though. Dublin will be the team who will have the regrets after the draw. Mayo were never in a winning position throughout the 70-plus minutes - they found themselves in a losing position on several occasions.

I’m sure their players were delighted to hear Conor Lane blow the final whistle, so they get another chance on October 1.

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