GAA Football

Kevin Madden: Courage on the pitch and sideline key to Mayo win

 CORRECT CALL James Horan’s decision to take skipper Aidan O’Shea off was a brave one but it proved crucial in Mayo clawing back
Dublin and eventually sealing their All-Ireland final berth. Picture: Philip Walsh

WHEN James Horan made the brave call to take off his leader, his captain, the man who begged him to take on the Mayo job for a second stint, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

At five points down, with 30 minutes left to play, it was a massive call.

No matter what way the All-Ireland semi-final would pan out, I was content the Mayo manager would sleep a little easier on Saturday night.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. From my opening comment, you have probably guessed I am not a huge Aidan O’Shea fan.

Too often I have watched the talented Mayo man implode in the big moments, particularly against this great Dublin side. So much ball goes through his hands and so much opposition planning is centred around him.

When things aren’t working out for him, his presence on the pitch only serves to focus Dublin defensively and slow down the Mayo attack. After O’Shea went off, the Connacht men took 15 minutes or so to find their way going forward, but the speed of their attack in the final third was much more on point.

Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue were now leading with much more dynamism. Instead of looking for a double-marked O’Shea to win marks, they were countering at pace, kicking with measure, running the ball and breaking lines. Tactically, Mayo got their timing spot on, even if they did leave it very late. In previous years, they went man-to-man from the word ‘go’, creating a combative anarchy that they would be unable to sustain for an entire game.

Eventually, Dublin would hammer the scoreboard during a thirdquarter purple patch and the intensity levels would wane.

Perhaps it was the fact they found themselves six down at halftime on Saturday and just had to go for it, but either way Mayo raised the pitch of the game to a level that made Dublin seriously uncomfortable in the second half. That’s what good teams do. They set the tempo and play on their own terms.

A massive part of it was the superb man-marking jobs Lee Keggan did on Con O’Callaghan and Padraig O’Hora on Ciaran Kilkenny.

We all know by now that Mayo can be sublime and ridiculous in equal measure. Kevin McLoughlin’s point on 62 minutes was the perfect example.

As Rob Hennelly’s 60-metre free was going a mile wide, somehow Diarmuid O’Connor managed to roundhouse the ball back out and into the path of McLoughlin, who converted a great score out of a completely lost cause. It was possibly the most ‘Mayo’ thing I have ever seen. At this stage, the absence of Stephen Cluxton was truly felt.

The next kick-out went long for a 50-50 ball and Mayo converted to cut their deficit to three. T

he next one went short and as the ball went back to Evan Comerford he over-carried possession.

Don’t get me wrong, the Dublin keeper didn’t have the nightmare some people are portraying. But, equally, in those pressure moments the presence of Cluxton was badly missed. Again in extra-time, Mayo won a crucial Comerford kick-out to put the game to bed. In contrast, Hennelly was completely flawless.

I felt his ability to find the right kick every time was aided by his willingness to save time by not always using the kicking tee. It might seem like a small thing but it knocked seconds off the restart, vital seconds that Dublin needed to get the right press on.

The re-taken free that he converted to earn extra-time was that bit of luck that had escaped Mayo in all of those other meetings against the Dubs. For the various misdemeanours Dublin got away with, it was the very least that they deserved.

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IN a second half where Mayo outscored their opponents by 10 points to four, it was all a far cry from the robotically assured Dublin who would normally squeeze every last living breath out of a team to force them into submission. The first signal of intent, for me, was immediately after Aidan O’Shea was dispossessed at full-forward. As Dublin broke at pace, O’Hora beat Kilkenny to the Davy Byrne kickpass.

As they hunted for blood, Mayo’s back six produced as good a display of man-to-man marking as I’ve seen in a very long time. When Dublin kicked to their forwards, more often than not Mayo won the dual. In contrast, when Mayo delivered measured kicks at the other end they stuck like glue to the forwards and opened up the runners off the shoulder and the shooters on the loop.

There were so many moments when Dublin just didn’t look like the team of previous years. One of the most obvious came after 50 minutes when they worked the ball to the corner and, under no pressure, Niall Scully hit a ridiculously skewed pass with the outside of his boot back out to the middle of the 50. Mayo countered and seconds later Keegan fired the ball over the bar to put three in it.

Byrne carrying possession over the sideline was another example. Moments that were so un-Dublin like. That Keegan score took us to the second water-break on 51 minutes and incredibly the six in-a-row champions were yet to score in the second half.

The third-quarter purple patch we are so used to seeing failed materialise. On reflection, Dublin did have the chance to bury the game immediately after the second waterbreak.

After Paddy Small put four in it, on the next attack Eoghan McLaughlin was met with a high challenge by Johnny Small. Remarkably, not only did his name not go into the referee’s book, but Mayo didn’t even get a free.

Thankfully justice prevailed and Colm Basquel missed a goal chance which would surely have buried the game.

Dublin’s discipline was shocking, not least from James McCarthy who should have walked earlier for an elbow he dished out to the throat of Diarmuid O’Connor. As they finished the game down in numbers, that petulance eventually caught up with them.

With the clock now their enemy, the sight of Brian Fenton hoofing long, aimless balls into the mixer was a surreal thing to witness. Remember the days when Jim Gavin unleashed the likes of Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh MacAuley and Bernard Brogan from the bench to make them even more formidable entering the final stretch?

On Saturday, Dublin’s quality of sub was a million miles from that standard, while the Mayo replacements created both energy and scores. On a night when a youthful Mayo brought to an end a remarkable Dublin run of 46 games unbeaten, they showed incredible fight and courage in doing so. Brave on the pitch, fearless on the line, Mayo got what they deserved because of the courage of their convictions. ‘Hon Mayo’.

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