FOR the first 40 minutes of last Sunday’s drawn All-Ireland semi-final, you could easily have been forgiven for thinking the Mayo management team were being either incredibly clever or ridiculously stupid.
With so many people predicting a classic clash between Mayo and Dublin, there should be no way any stone should be left unturned in terms of preparation. And in the first half Dublin boss Jim Gavin proved himself as an astute tactician, learning from the lessons inflicted by Donegal at the same stage last year, with Cian O’Sullivan marshalling the full-back line brilliantly.
As a result of a mixture of poor delivery and a lack of options, Aidan O’Shea was well contained at full-forward in the first half, while the fact Mayo basically conceded the kick-out to Dublin saw them lurching towards a disaster. Like the madman I am, I found myself shouting ‘push up, push up’ at the TV.
I would never claim to be a tactical genius, but one vivid memory I have from my playing career is of a National League game in Newry in 2012. Dublin, the visitors, had selected a decent team, and in the week leading up to the match, James McCartan had us well drilled in pushing up on every kick-out, marking man-for-man. After that, we could afford to perhaps drop off and counter-attack at speed. It worked a treat and we won the game.
When, and only when, Mayo pushed up on the kick-out on Sunday, giving Stephen Cluxton no options either long or short, the game turned on its head. It’s as simple as that. There are so many experts and people talking about tactics these days, over-complicating a game which can be as simple as you make it.
The Mayo management, players and supporters may feel Sunday was an opportunity lost. Perhaps they should have won the game in the end and, certainly, it was one they could have won had they got their tactics right from the start. Essentially, Mayo drew a game having only played well for 15 minutes, and their management team have to take full responsibility for the other 55 minutes.
Isolating Aidan O’Shea when every man and his dog knew he would be playing at full-forward was an insult to Jim Gavin’s intelligence. It was tactical naivety at its worst. Meanwhile, I kept shouting ‘push up, for God’s sake push up’.
Andy Moran’s introduction was greeted with a significant increase in the decibel level, both in my house and at Croke Park, but it didn’t go well initially, with shots taken on which were wildly optimistic, especially when there were others in better shooting positions. Despite me shouting ‘pass it, pass it’, Andy was backing himself. My better half decided this was a good time to tell me the players at Croke Park couldn’t hear me.
Andy Moran has an infectious personality and is a leader. I had the opportunity to play with him during the trials for the International Rules series, when he unfortunately broke a leg in a tackling drill. Despite being in plaster, he maintained the same enthusiasm, which is one of the reasons he has come back from broken legs and cruciate ligament injuries over the years.
Overcoming those setbacks also goes some way to explaining how a mentally strong person can turn a poor performance around and kick two fine points when the game is in the balance. All of a sudden, with 69 minutes on the clock, I found myself shouting ‘give it to Andy’. It was only during the post-match analysis and later, while watching The Sunday Game, that I had the chance to relax a bit.
Thankfully, the last few years of my inter-county career were spent competing against the top teams and, without doubt, I felt Dublin were the most cynical of them all. Blocking runs, holding jerseys, and generally embarking on a mission of ‘football cuteness’ was par for the course from them. Perhaps now, while we all continue to marvel at their skill level, the public will be more aware of their dark side.
Philly McMahon deserves to be criticised in the same way as some of the Tyrone players were after their win over Monaghan. Alleged head-butting and feigning injury is embarrassing stuff. Diarmuid Connolly deserved his sending off despite no real damage being inflicted on Lee Keegan, and the rules state that the Dublin forward must serve a one-match ban, which is hardly fair given that Keegan had quite a say in how the incident started.
And so it’s off to Limerick this week for the replay. Wait a minute, the Dublin team don’t cross county boundaries, so it’s back to Croke Park for a bumper weekend of football and hurling.
Hopefully the Mayo management team will read the press this week and perhaps revert to type, with a small difference, well a big one actually. At 6ft 4in, Barry Moran should certainly play a bigger role on Saturday and a better one at that, sweeping in front of the full-back line if possible.
It is hard to know which team has more room for improvement. Before Dennis Bastick came on, the Dublin midfield were poor and I can’t have been the only one who thought the black card given to Michael Darragh MacAuley was a good thing. However, Mayo were not impressive at midfield either and I would be surprised if they were as poor this weekend.
Dublin have the better forward line and with Connolly suspended, surely Kevin McManamon must start. That’s not exactly a bad option to have.
Mayo need another scoring forward on the field. Too often, aside from Cillian O’Connor, shots were erratic and poorly executed. Aidan O’Shea is a great target man but he does not have super-human strength to fend off three defenders when surrounded. Giving O’Shea a licence to roam would be a better tactic and telling O’Connor to play off him would certainly improve the potency of the team.
There is a ‘Deluded Brendan’ Twitter page highlighting some of Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ quotes, which are hilarious at times. Mayo need to find their identity this week and keep things simple, otherwise we could all be laughing at a newly-established ‘Deluded Mayo’ page next week.
It might read ‘we are probably the greatest team never to win an All-Ireland’. Hilarious stuff for everyone else.