Absence of width
Dublin’s strategic moves before throw-in had a marked effect on the tone of the game. Paul Flynn went on Donie Vaughan with Ciaran Kilkenny swapping with Paddy Andrews. This put Kilkenny into the full forward line and Andrews on Colm Boyle. For Boyle this meant he had to stay home far more than he would have planned as Andrews was always likely to push forward if given space. This put the onus on Vaughan to provide attacks from half back to spread the field by Flynn kept the Ballinrobe man under wraps. This put pressure on Kevin McLoughlin to provide all the width for Mayo in distribution, with neither Keith Higgins nor Alan Dillon’s roles giving them the freedom to assist. McLoughlin was understandably limited without help from behind and this in turn restricted Aidan O’Shea’s freedom to roam forward.
For Dublin, their own adjustments up front required the half back line to play far more conservatively. Ger Brennan was always going to spend most of the game staying at home while James McCarthy had to be wary of runs inside. This forced Jack McCaffrey to carry the load and save for one run forward, which resulted in a turnover, he was a non-factor in attack. With a dearth of width both attacks far more predictable and this allowed the backs to put more pressure on shots in the opening 35 minutes.
Big time profligacy
Mayo’s 8 of 17 return from the opening 35 minutes was disappointing. Three of those misses came from score-able frees, only one of which was a low-percentage shot. Despite being wholly in command for the opening quarter, with Dublin recording just 2 shots in the game’s first 13 minutes, Mayo failed to create significant breathing room as they never led by more than a score. When Dublin finally got going in attack, they did everything they could to outperform the Connacht champions inaccuracy. A vile 5 of 15 return from the first half should have been punished. Of Dublin’s 10 missed attempts, 2 were saved by Robbie Hennelly, 3 fell short, and 5 went wide. Only Bernard Brogan’s goal on 16 minutes kept the game competitive at the break.
The move began with an utter mess. Three Mayo and two Dublin players scrapped for the ball on the ground 60m out from goal. Such rucks were common in the game but they rarely amounted to anything on the score board. This was a notable exception. Paul Flynn took possession off the break and, from 55m out, sent in a high ball towards Bernard Brogan. With Ger Cafferkey blocking Hennelly’s view, Brogan got in front of the Mayo duo to punch into the net.
About those high balls
Dublin and Mayo each sought to test defences with long balls in the first half and neither was particularly effective. Save for Brogan’s score, which came off Cafferkey’s poor positioning, Dublin achieved nothing for their efforts. Jim Gavin’s side opted to use direct balls due to a large gap between the two Mayo defensive lines but with no width in the game, Mayo’s defence could anticipate the ball would go towards goal rather than the corner. Mayo really liked high balls, so much so that they removed Alan Freeman for Michael Conroy. In their league semi-final meeting, Conroy had operated close to the end line and James Horan clearly felt he could get Mayo chances nearer goal by removing Freeman. Conroy however was ineffective and Mayo’s efforts to go long were repelled with ease. It was poor strategy from both camps considering how obvious the efforts were.
Dublin strike hard
After missing their first shot of the second half, Dublin rattled off 5 scores without a miss. There is an element of regression to the mean here, with the exception of the semi-final Dublin have invariably shot near 50 per cent over 70 minutes in all of their games.
The second goal, which was the first score after Mayo had squared matters, was comfortably the move of the match. A quick free reached Flynn who quickly backtracked into his own half, moving 20m back from where he took possession. Flynn kicked up-field and the ball broke to Kevin McManamon on the 45. With a pair of Mayo defenders in pursuit he immediately offloaded to Michael Darragh MacAuley who saw Denis Bastick running up the middle to his left. MacAuley fed Bastick inside the D and he advanced through open territory in order to draw in defenders. With Brogan open on the left of the box, Bastick passed as defenders closed in on the 13m line and Brogan parried into the goal.
The intricacy of this move however points to how good Dublin needed to be to get a quality chance. At every step there were Mayo defenders closing Dublin down. Horan’s charges kept Dublin to just 11 shots in the second half, comfortably their fewest over 35 minutes this summer, but they converted 9. Even during Dublin’s 5 points without a miss spell, chances had to be fought for. Bernard Brogan looked in for a shot on 40 minutes when he took possession in the right corner but Mayo got cover back and harried before eventually forcing the turnover.
Mayo’s comeback lacks options
The timing of Mayo’s goal was crucial. Dublin had finally taken the lead and were beginning to create breathing room. Andy Moran’s strike brought Horan’s charges back on level terms. Colm Boyle started the play with a long ball but, like Dublin’s first major, there was a heavy dose of scrappiness to the score. Jonny Cooper beat Moran to the ball but his punch found Conroy. As Cooper had advanced as he punched, Moran was now on his own with only Stephen Cluxton to beat. Conroy passed to Moran who drifted to the right, creating an open line for Conroy’s ball, and shot low into the left corner.
Like Dublin that was the only time the high ball route succeeded for Mayo. The Connacht champions however caught a couple of breaks that looked like they could swing the day for them. Eoghan O’Gara, who had worked the ball well for Dublin in attack after replacing Paul Mannion in the first half, pulled up with a leg injury with 15 minutes still left on the clock. Dublin however were out of replacements, having already used their full quota of subs. Running simply wasn’t an option, indeed he could barely walk, and this freed up a man at the back for Mayo despite Dublin still nominally having 15 players on the park. Dublin however were dropping deeper, effectively sacrificing their attack, and Mayo’s forwards repeatedly got stuffed whenever they got near the 20m line. Mayo could only match Dublin’s tally of 11 shots after the break and the last of these resulted in a questionable call by Cillian O’Connor.
The final shot
With the four allotted minutes of injury time up and trailing by 2 points Mayo had a free 14m from goal. O’Connor opted to take his point rather than try and drive through a crowded goal line. Cluxton took the kick out and full time was blown. Given O’Connor’s remonstrations afterwards it’s easy to assume he thought Joe McQuillan had indicated there was still time on the clock. The thing is, that really shouldn’t have factored into the decision for O’Connor. Mayo hadn’t been enjoying a good day on Dublin’s kick outs and their problems had only been exacerbated after the break. O’Connor was relying on his side improbably regaining possession and having enough time just to create a shot to level matters. Then there’s Mayo’s overall shooting. Outside of O’Connor, Mayo had shot 7 of 16 on the game and no-one else had scored for Horan’s side since Moran’s goal on 50 minutes. Indeed that was Mayo’s final score from play. The chances of success by going for goal direct from the free may have been slim but they were far greater than hoping a chance for an equaliser would emerge from the subsequent kick out.
There were a lot of mistakes in this game and much of it can be drawn back to Dublin’s original tactical switch. Rather than Horan looking to keep Dublin’s shot count down, it was Gavin who opted to eschew a shootout. His strategy was squarely aimed at removing Mayo’s runs from the back and in this respect it was a success. Over 70 minutes however this forced both sides to move far away from their tried and tested strategies. With the much maligned Brennan appearing to be the only comfortable man on the park, passing was sloppy and the ball often ended up caught in rucks on the ground. All of which contributed to the low scoring and shot count. Dublin finished 14 of 26, shooting around their average but 9 scoring chances lower than their previous low of 35 against Kerry. Mayo’s 15 of 28 tally made them the first team this summer to land more scores or shots than Dublin but it was still well below their norm of putting up around 35 shots per game. The two most attack minded sides in the game delivered a defensive struggle. In the end it came down to the narrowest of margins. Whoever lost was certain to regret their strategy, the winner would be grateful it didn’t backfire. Gavin was the latter, Horan the former. Mayo’s heartbreak continues.
EDIT: Massive apologies to Paul Flynn. I had an old classmate in college called Kevin Flynn. This is not the first time I’ve accidentally called Paul by that name.
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