The Andy Moran non-factor
The loss of Andy Moran may cost Mayo their shot at an All-Ireland but it’s unlikely to have a huge impact in this game. The full-forward was in contention for an All-Star before his season ending injury against Down and it’s easy to see why. A multi-threat target man, Moran was an effective ball-winner, natural scorer, and had the pace to bring other forwards into attack.
Yet Dublin may be the side least affected by Moran’s absence. The Dublin full-back line has largely shone against skillful attackers and showed their greatest struggles during Pat Gilroy’s tenure against more awkward bulldozing target men. If anything Mayo should benefit from the element of surprise. Dublin know full well what Moran is capable of but will have to adapt their defence to suit Mayo’s adjustments on Sunday.
Dublin’s execution issues
After a comfortable win over Louth in their first game of the summer, Dublin have survived three straight mediocre performances. Wexford, Meath, nor Laois should be competitive against the All-Ireland champions yet all three pushed Dublin to the brink. Much of their success came from punishing some sloppy play that plagued Dublin at both ends of the field.
The psychological hangover of lifting Sam is hard to quantify but the 2012 edition of Dublin lacks the discipline of last year’s version. The problems were evident in spring through an up and down Division 1 campaign and none of Dublin’s performances in the summer have indicated they have moved on. After converting 57 percent of chances against Louth, Dublin converted 13 of 30 chances (43 percent) against Wexford, 15 of 26 (58 percent) against Meath, and 13 of 29 (45 percent) against Laois. The glib view would be to say Dublin are due a decent day on Sunday but the figures also point to their heavy reliance on Bernard Brogan. The 2010 Footballer of the Year went 8 of 10 against the Royals, comfortably his best performance of the summer, and struggled greatly in Dublin’s other two scares.
Which Dublin defence will show up?
In the second half of their Quarter-Final, Dublin held Laois to just 6 scoring chances. The O’Moore county converted 5 but the dearth of opportunities kept their forwards from pressuring Dublin late. They looked equally impressive in the second half of the Leinster Semi-Final against Wexford, albeit aided by the Slaneysiders appalling finishing.
These however have been flashes of brilliance during an inconsistent season. Down the stretch against Meath, it was Dublin’s defence that failed with the Royals breaking through easily in a late charge. Likewise Wexford and Laois didn’t need to exert themselves greatly during the opening halves of their games against Dublin. The warning signs were there in the Louth game, where despite being far inferior the Wee County found routes to goal up the middle. To overcome Mayo, Dublin simply can’t afford such inconsistency at the back as the Connacht champions have the forwards to punish them.
Horan’s defensive system suited to match-up
Mayo’s man-isolation game worked with devastating effect in the spring and has largely carried over through the summer. Even in an erratic display against Sligo in the Connacht Final, Mayo enjoyed substantial success in limiting chances for the Yeats county. By pressuring the ball-carrier Mayo have succeeded in forcing turnovers at will. Only Cork have succeeded in countering this approach and much of that came through their own physical game. Dublin have big options in the form of Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara but the real battle will likely come in the middle third. By pressuring Dublin’s possession in midfield, an area where Gilroy’s charges haven’t excelled this season, Mayo could choke the supply lines to the Dublin attack. This would see more of the game played in Dublin territory, enabling Mayo to vary their attack.
On Sunday Dublin need to do something they have failed to do all summer and rarely managed in spring; put together a complete 70 minute performance. Through four games they have had moments where they reminded observers of what they are capable of but had lacked the organisation that carried them to glory last September.
Mayo are not quite the finished product but this is a team that has improved steadily during Horan’s tenure. The implementation of a defensive scheme that works is only part of the the process. In attack Mayo have proven a threat from distance and in advancing close to goal. Creativity up front has played a big role here and the return from injury of Aidan O’Shea has played no small part in this. Andy Moran is a loss but not a game-changing one. The Connacht champions are the form team entering this match. Dublin are hoping to flick a switch and make things right in September. That doesn’t happen at this level. Mayo to win, by 3 or 4 points.
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Programming note: The next column will be analysis of this game and will go up Sunday night. That will be followed by a column on Tuesday on the Minor Semi-Final between Dublin and Kerry. For the full schedule check us out on Facebook.