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All-Ireland football semi-final replay; Dublin v Mayo

GAABy Sean McGoldrick
Dublin and Mayo will do it all again this evening
Dublin and Mayo will do it all again this evening

Last Sunday Dublin and Mayo resembled two raging bulls let loose in an enclosed field. They went at each other with little regard for their own or their opponent’s safety. As for sportsman – don’t make me laugh!

Familiarity breeds contempt. It was third time in four seasons the counties had clashed at the business end of the All-Ireland. Neither was willing to yield an inch.

The tone was set in the first 30 seconds when Jonny Cooper and Kevin McLoughlin had a private arm-wrestling match on the ground as play continued around them. The referee took no action and the tone was set for the rest of the afternoon.

The reality of 21st century Gaelic football is that players at this level will do anything they think they might get away with in order to win.

Most of those in action last weekend have devoted at least five years in pursuit of All-Ireland glory and they are not going to be too worried about niceties such as the obeying the rules!

The issue was compounded by the two sides’ preoccupation with their opponent’s perceived strengths. Dublin was hell bent on reducing the influence of Aidan O’Shea – so much so that their discipline deserted them with James McCarthy and Philly McMahon being particularly culpable.

They both conceded two scorable frees each; while backchat to the referee resulted in two frees been moved within easy range for Cillian O’Connor.

Mayo, meanwhile, was so anxious not to cough up soft goals but they pulled so many players behind the ball particularly in the first half, that had no functional half forward line and failed miserably to link the play. Aidan O’Shea was left in splendid isolation on far too many occasions.

In the event neither tactic worked particularly well. Dublin’s plans to contain O’Shea were disrupted when his designated marker Rory O’Carroll had to retire injured after only three minutes.

Interestingly even though he was held scoreless from play O’Shea ended up with 19 possessions – the only forward on either side who had more than Diarmuid O’Connor who is emerging as a pivotal figure for the Connacht champions. O’Shea had more assists (6) for scores than any other player.

At the other end Mayo still ended up conceding two preventable goals but they did restrict Dublin to 24 shots at goal which is a record low for the Leinster championships this summer.

This is the second time in 13 months that Mayo contests an All-Ireland final replay.

Last season they were distracted before their rematch against Kerry due to the row over the game being switched to the Gaelic Ground in Limerick and their successful efforts to get Lee Keegan’s red card rescinded.

This time they have no such distractions. Instead it’s Dublin who has had to deal with the fall-out from last Sunday’s drawn encounter as they endeavored to have Diarmuid Connolly’s red card rescinded.

In the early hours of this morning Connolly was set free by the GAA’s Disputes Resolution Authority. The shock decision is a potential game changer and could have an explosive impact on today’s game – both on the field and in the stand.

The fans and the players all need to take a step back and put the game in its proper perspective. There are more important things in life than football.

Even though Connolly has been slightly below his best this summer - probably due to the fact that he hasn’t had a break from football since the winter of 2012 - he is arguably the most gifted footballer in the game right now.

Accordingly he is targeted by all opponents. Even though he scored Mayo’s only point from play in the first half of the drawn game and won a very dubious free, overall Lee Keegan curtailed his natural attacking instincts to man-handle Connolly. They both need to behave better today.

The attitude of the players and more particular referee Eddie Kinsella will be critical. Mayo joint manager Pat Holmes doesn’t need to be reminded that the Laois official is not afraid to make big calls in big matches – having black carded Castlebar Mitchels’ Richie Feeney after only five minutes of the All-Ireland club final against St Vincent’s in 2014. Holmes was manager of Castlebar that day.

Kinsella is far more likely to issue cards than Joe McQuillan. If the teams continue to behave like they did last Sunday there is every chance that key players will spend most of the match watching from the stand.

Last Sunday was the first time that Dublin had faced a Division 1 team in championship football since the 2013 All-Ireland final which might explain why so many of their tackles were mistimed. This is an issue they can address.

In terms of their free taking Jim Gavin faces a crucial call. Having only touched the ball twice in open play during the first half and missed the only free he attempted, Dean Rock was replaced at half time. 

But then Dublin missed three of the four frees they were awarded in the second half with Stephen Cluxton’s the culprit on the three occasions.

Now Gavin has to decide whether to go without a specialist free-taker. The issue is compounded by the absence of Connolly a decent ball specialist and the side’s penalty taker.

Dublin may start veteran Alan Brogan as he looks the player most likely to get his younger brother Bernard on the ball more often. The latter had only five possessions last Sunday,

While he is no longer able to single-handedly win matches Dublin needs a bigger contribution from their leading scorer from play.

Mayo needs a better scoring return from all their starting forwards. Diarmuid O’Connor was the only starting forward to score from play in the drawn game and they can no longer be reliant on their bench and Cillian O’Connor’s converted frees to rescue them.

One suspects Mayo’s tactics won’t change too much, though they will be anxious to deny Dublin space on the flanks from where Paul Flynn, in particular, launched the diagonal kicked passes to by-pass Mayo’s still evolving defensive system.

Once again denying Dublin clear cut goal chances will be a priority and if they’re still in the hunt after an hour they will be confident of finishing out the deal against a nervous Dublin side.

However, it is worth noting that it wasn’t Dublin’s three designated midfielders, Michael Darragh MacAuley, Brian Fenton and Denis Bastick were all in the stand that Mayo took control.

On the basis that Dublin keeps their key players on the field their superior scoring threat may to see them over the line.

Verdict: Dublin.