It’s finally here. Well ok, we still have three more days to wait but Mayo and Dublin will meet on Sunday in the All Ireland Football Final. Emmet Ryan breaks down the strategic factors that will shape this game and makes his pick on who lifts Sam Maguire.
Horan will start hard
I expect Mayo to look to push a hard pace early on Sunday but not for the reasons Kerry and Cork did. Horan believes he has the bench to keep in this game for 70 minutes but he has other reasons to be wary of a slow start. The early blows delivered by Donegal in last year’s final still ring in his ears and Mayo’s pedestrian start against Tyrone was far from inspiring. That gives plenty of psychological reasons to go hard early but there is also a strategic benefit.
Dublin’s desire to use Stephen Cluxton in the passing game relies on the defence having breathing room. Mayo know that by pinning the Dublin full backs deep early, they can slow Jim Gavin’s team on the counter. This in turn brings the half backs closer to goal and compresses space. From here Mayo will look to use outside shooting early to open up goal chances. This could result in Mayo having their least accurate spell of the game while still developing an early lead.
Defensively Mayo face a huge task. Individually there’s a lot to like about the entire Mayo cover but defending Dublin goes beyond one-on-one match-ups. It’s about ensuring you can get help defenders over in time to make an impact. In order to do this Mayo simply have to cut down the opportunities for Dublin to vary their attack. This won’t be easy as, I examined yesterday, Dublin can alternate how and where they go forward. Seamie O’Shea will have a big job to contain Dublin’s breaks from midfield. O’Shea’s success in this area will be vital to Mayo’s overall defensive effort. They need it to be Seamie as any reduction to Aidan O’Shea’s attacking role plays into the volume game Dublin will play.
With the Dublin attack it will be interesting to see how Jack McCaffrey is deployed. McCaffrey created four scores against Kerry but only one came from a long run up the left. With the half back opting for a more varied passing game last time out, Dublin may look at the Clontarf man as a way to keep Mayo guessing. This could prove particularly important in the first half where Dublin will likely face intense defensive pressure. Over-committing defenders can be exploited by unexpected changes of direction.
It’s taken the guts of a year but finally Dublin will face an opponent with the depth to live with them in the final quarter. Living with them and beating them are different challenges but if Mayo can take any semblance of a lead into the final 20 minutes, they have the capacity to hold on for victory. Richie Feeney is the bored man’s Kevin McManamon. While he lacks the explosion of the Dublin forward, Feeney shares McManamon’s tendency to be far more productive as a substitute than a starter. In Darren Coen and Michael Conroy, Horan has attacking options that can keep the Dublin defence honest down the stretch but the real question for Mayo will be in how they shore up at the back as the changes get made. Dean Rock will play for 30 minutes and his impact will shape Gavin’s other changes. If Mayo can contain Rock for 10 minutes, they can make life difficult for the Dublin manager. Dublin need to find a way to push the pace down the stretch but if they do so at the sacrifice of their shooting, Mayo may be able to withstand the onslaught.
Before getting to the breakdown a quick qualifier. Back before Donegal’s depth and injury issues were apparent I said repeatedly that Donegal vs Dublin would be the toughest game to analyse or make a pick on. As it turned out that would have been a rather easy game to call but in its stead came another brutally tough one in Mayo vs Dublin. There’s so much to like about both of these teams, not surprising given they are in the final, and the differences between them are far subtler than appears. This makes contrasting them and deciding which one is more likely to lift Sam quite the challenge. On the upside, both sets of fans seem to find me fair so there’s little fear of a lynching.
In the end I have to get cold and callous and go on the balance of probabilities. This game will have between 65 and 70 shots in total. That’s a lot for any match, All Ireland Final or no, but these are two high volume shooting teams. Likewise you can expect between 30 and 40 scores depending on how accurate the combatants are. Whoever gets the lion’s share will have a big advantage and much as Mayo look impressive in attack, it’s hard to see them match Dublin’s productivity over 70 minutes. It’s a tough call but one I’ll stand over. Dublin to win.
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