With not much more than ten minutes left on the clock, it looked as if Kerry were to get the upper hand in another chapter of a truly great sporting rivalry with Dublin.
Pundits and bookies alike had the Boys in Blue as heavy favourites to win the All-Ireland semi-final tie and, to their credit, Jim Gavin’s side did just that but in the process exhibited the few flaws that the team possesses.
To look at Dublin’s weaknesses, you must look at where Kerry succeeded a couple of weeks ago and to the fact that the Kingdom’s full forward line scored 2-06 from play.
To say the Dublin full-back line is weak would be ridiculous of course – with Johnny Cooper and Philly McMahon among two of the finest backs in the game – but the line struggled to contain Paul Geaney as he went on the score 1-04.
Back in June, former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness wrote in The Irish Times that the small stature of the Dublin full-back line could prove their downfall with McMahon, Cooper and Michael Fitzsimmons (who he envisioned as a starter later on in the Championship), would not be physically imposing enough to deal with bigger players such as David Moran and Kieran Donaghy.
Two such players that the Dublin back line could struggle to deal with is Andy Moran and Aidan O’Shea as a result. Unlike last year however, it is hard to see Dublin having the luxury of double marking O’Shea after the success of the three-man full forward line Kerry implemented.
Aside from the full back line, there are few other aspects of the game that Mayo can take advantage of but there was one noticeable flaw in Dublin’s defence in the tail end of the semi-final – the half back line became increasingly easier for Kerry to penetrate as the game went on.
In the first half Kerry relied on ball winners in the full forward line as Cian O’Sullivan bossed the line but as fit as the Dublin side are, as the game progressed the legs on James McCarthy began to tire and on the left side, where an attacking Paul Mannion was brought on for John Small, gaps opened and Kerry had success in playing the ball into the full forward line. If Mayo are to take advantage of any signs of fatigue in Dublin’s half back line, it will require a monstrous effort from Diarmuid O’Connor.
A lot has been said of Dublin’s discipline, especially after Diarmuid Connolly’s red card against Donegal. The Dublin talisman will, no doubt, be targeted by the Mayo’s half back line and, in particular, Lee Keegan in an effort to rile the St.Vincent’s man up and get him to remove himself from the game.
Dublin proved against Kerry why they may be the greatest attacking side in GAA history though, employing different tactics after Kerry effectively shut down the Dublin full forward line. And, in a similar fashion, Mayo did the same against Tipperary in their semi-final by not allowing many goal opportunities and cutting off delivery into the final 13 metres of the pitch.
Mayo are going to need a game plan that requires high pressure on the Dublin half forwards, which can lead to speculative shots and mistakes. Both midfielders will have to drop deep and give the Dublin forwards no space to breathe and Kevin McLoughlin will likely be given a sweeper style role in an effort to cause havoc anywhere between midfield and the full back line.
Of course, all of this is well and good in theory and although Dublin’s been run close in the past two years, they seem to have an answer for every question asked of them to date. Stephen Rochford’s side, therefore, will need to have an ace up their sleeve to disrupt Dublin’s attacking rhythm on September 18th and defy the odds to bring Sam back to Mayo for the first time since 1951.
Darragh Culhane, Pundit Arena
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