Sunday Business Post journalist and author of 'Tactics not Passion' previews the All-Ireland final replay
The easy assumption to make after the drawn game was that Dublin can get better. Mayo however know they have plenty of room for improvement.
Stephen Rochford’s approach to attack was intelligent last time out but he will also know it was a touch too conservative. When his side created opportunities, they were generally high percentage shots. The problem was they didn’t create nearly enough of them. The fundamentals for Mayo made sense once they got into the attacking area but, for all he did for them the last day, Mayo need to lean a lot harder on Andy Moran this Saturday.
In simple terms, Moran is better in the Aidan O’Shea role than O’Shea himself and that’s largely because Mayo are sacrificing too much by using O’Shea as a primary aerial threat. Moran has, for quite some time, been wildly under-rated under the high ball particularly in what he can do after taking possession. Targeting the Dublin full back line made plenty of sense but Moran can do more for O’Shea than vice versa. O’Shea is a good ball winner but his greatest asset, taking the ball in hand on the move, is lost when he’s put into the role of lead target man. Having Moran take a more prominent role here, which I expect Rochford to do, while having O’Shea as the second high ball option will free up both O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor more.
Defensively, despite the two goals conceded, there was plenty to like about Mayo’s plan and they have a choice to make here which I don’t envy. Direct ball through the middle was tough for Dublin to get but when they got it, Mayo looked in trouble. Shoring up the spine however would involve sacrificing the biggest positive for Mayo last time out - their success in forcing Dublin’s possession game out to the flanks. It’s worth retaining that risk to the spine for the greater good.
Jim Gavin’s initial decisions will be around selection. It’s difficult to see him not starting Paddy Andrews this time out but the question is who to remove. The easy call, one would think, is Bernard Brogan who looked leaden-legged at times the last day. Strategically however the smarter call looks to be bringing out Kevin McManamon who struggled to get in the game throughout his spell in the drawn game. Having McManamon on the bench also gives Gavin more flexibility with his changes in the second half as the double physical threat of McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara is far more potent off the bench for tiring out a foe than essentially having them switch out for one another.
The mind games around Diarmuid Connolly, who was shut down by Lee Keegan the last day - a vast improvement on the defensive side of his game from his 2013 showing where he was directly at fault for four scoring chances, and it’s going to take a lot for Connolly to change that but first, about that late shot of his. We need to talk.
The debate over what he should have done with that sideline effort has been a touch overblown. While a low percentage chance, taking a shot allowed him to knock a full 30 seconds off the clock while also enabling his team mates to be in position to defend the subsequent kick out. That they failed to successfully stop Mayo isn’t on the St Vincent’s man. A short pass may have allowed Dublin to kill the whole clock but Mayo had proven more than adept at forcing turnovers throughout the game and Dublin’s ball handling was anything but stellar. The safe option here was a shot, any shot so long as it went out of play. It guaranteed a chunk of time and a reasonable chance of preventing Mayo getting in scoring position.
Now, back to Connolly and Keegan. He’s going to need players to make space for him to force Keegan into doing more than sticking to the Vincent’s man. It’s really that simple. Andrews, while not having his finest outing last time out, is quite effective at creating space and could be a big factor here.
The midfield situation for Dublin will also merit much attention on Sunday. Gavin needs to find a way to enable Brian Fenton to be the legitimate first option here. Paired with Michael Darragh MacAuley, Fenton has to adopt a more holding role despite looking more reliable going forward. MacAuley is a house of fire but his game hasn’t delivered for Dublin this year. If Gavin can get 45 minutes out of him and then make the hard change to a more holding style player like Denis Bastick, he should get far more out of Fenton over the full 70.
On the whole, both sides have room to improve but it’s hard to not see Dublin making more strides here. They disappointed last time and still nearly won it all. This time round, their improvement should be enough.