Dublin have more left to give in All-Ireland SFC Final
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final replay: Dublin v Mayo (today, 5pm, Croke Park, live on RTÉ2 and Sky Sports 3)
TO read most of the conjecture of the last 13 days, you’d be led to believe that Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly were going to show up in Croke Park today on their own, swords drawn, for a fight to the death.
The rest, sure were they even playing two weeks ago?
The concerted effort of the former Dublin players to paint Keegan as a villain and get inside the mind of referee Maurice Deegan has been matched by Mayo’s bid to place a halo on their number 5’s head. Neither side are strictly right.
There will be 40,000 sets of Dublin vocal chords primed to let the officials know of the first time Keegan lays a hand on Connolly this afternoon. They will bay for the Westport man’s head on a stake.
It all must have been a godsend for Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon and Paul Flynn and Aidan O’Shea and Diarmuid O’Connor, none of whom performed to their level in their drawn game.
They weren’t the only ones, but they are the traditional ringleaders.
Perhaps that underlines the difference in where the two squads are at. In Dublin there is viable chat that both Brogan and McManamon could be dropped.
If they are, Paddy Andrews and Cormac Costello would almost certainly fill the breach, and there’d be no great gnashing of the teeth about it.
But could Mayo ever afford to sit Aidan O’Shea or Diarmuid O’Connor on the bench from the start of an All-Ireland final? You could argue for Barry Moran and Alan Dillon, but it would be a weak hand you’d be coming with.
Stephen Rochford argued after the drawn game that he wouldn’t have been completely happy with his side’s performance. At the time, it sounded like a rouse, a method of motivation.
But you look back at the performances of some of his key attacking players and you see where he’s coming from.
Aidan O’Shea was well restricted, as he has been by Dublin in previous games. Seamus O’Shea wasn’t powerful. O’Connor left his footprint over every square millimetre of Croke Park, but with little in the way of end product. Andy Moran kicked two points but was underused.
So there is more in Mayo. That the replay wasn’t six or seven days later also suits them in terms of blowing off the disappointment of not taking it the first day.
For while there remains improvement, and the little bit of luck deserted them on the own goals, there was so much that went their way – not least a referee that let the game flow in conditions that suited the defender engaging in robust contact.
Mayo brought the physicality. You could almost, almost go so far as to say that they bullied Dublin, right from charging out of the tunnel at the same time.
Twenty minutes in, you were wondering how they could ever sustain their Herculean defensive effort. Forty minutes in, you’re thinking the gaps will appear soon. Seventy minutes in, three points down, surely there’s nothing still in the tank?
From five down, and then from three down, Mayo clenched their fists and forced a replay.
Yet many have decreed that their ship sailed out of Croke Park and is far, far away now. That Dublin are bound to bring more to the table.
Mayo have more too, but the evidence suggests they won’t bring it. For instance, Aidan O’Shea has been so well marshalled by the Dublin defence now on so many occasions that it’s hard to see him being the matchwinner.
But Jim Gavin, no matter his achievements so far, is facing a great test.
A great manager will evoke a greater performance. His uncharacteristically critical post-match comments about his own team suggest that he will spent the last 13 days shaking the complacency out.
There are those who will say that Bernard Brogan owes Dublin nothing but having been so poor against Donegal, Kerry and then in the drawn game, he has effectively been a passenger for two months. He owes his team-mates a performance.
Brendan Harrison has been outstanding at corner-back all year for Mayo and, despite the criticisms, Kevin McLoughlin has grown into the role in front of him. His boundless energy allows him to double as both sweeper and counter-attacking outlet.
Dublin may have been benefited by two own goals but they still prised Mayo apart too easily in the first 15 minutes. Their obsession with the green flag actually counted against them in the end, as the opportunities they passed up in that spell while trying to force goals would come back to bite them.
Dean Rock was another who was quiet in open play, but he should be safe on the basis of his frees and having performed so well in the semi-final against Kerry.
You’d assume that James McCarthy will get more than the 24 minutes he was afforded before his controversial black card in the drawn game.
As it had to be, so much of the Mayo gameplan was based on stymieing players like McCarthy. If that was at the cost of their own attacking game and they squeezed a one-point win out of it, then it would have been plenty justified.
The idea this evening will be the same. The red and green invasion of the Hill looks set to spread deeper. But now that Mayo have come and squared up in so many ways, to take a backward step at this stage would be fatal.
Expect Dublin to come all guns blazing and the worry for Mayo is that, if they are not ready, they’ll find no opposition better equipped to sustain that in the way that Mayo themselves sustained their 70-minute effort before.
Brian Fenton’s athleticism from midfield is the cause of much strife, but him aside, it’s the one area that Dublin don’t have the depth they would like. Michael Darragh Macauley’s form has been quiet but Denis Bastick, at 35, is neither a full-time nor a long-term replacement.
It’s an area in which Mayo haven’t been able to truly make their physicality count. David Clarke’s preference for the short kickout to the wings in recent games tests the engine rather than the arms of his powerful midfield pairing.
Mayo’s poor replay record is well established by now. Even in those replays, they’ve had chances to cross the line and still fallen short.
Both sides have improvement in them. The question is: which team do you see actually making the improvement?
On that basis, Dublin by a head.