Hawkeye Sidekick

All Ireland Senior Football Final Replay Reflections

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Twenty-fours after the fact. Dublin have retained Sam Maguire. Mayo begin to yet again lip their wounds after a tenth successive All Ireland Senior Football final reversal. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on a replay which will be talked about for some time to come.

Mayo Management Decisions Backfire Enormously

The decision to drop David Clarke instead of Robbie Hennelly was  a massive call. It is a massive call to drop anyone from a starting lineup for a replay, even more so when the player in question plays in goal, a position fundamental in modern day football where kick-out accuracy to win primary possession is paramount. Stephen Rochford post-game tried to justify the selection call stating that Dublin had sussed out the short kick-out strategy adopted by Mayo in the opening  final game. Was Rochford and management team spooked by the Diarmuid Connolly point in the first game where Clarke’s mislaid past hit the Dublin forward on the back before being dispatched for a white flag. Hennelly is a fine keeper but yesterday nerves got the better of him. His first four kick-outs were long but in areas where Dublin numerical advantage was evident. No variation in the kick-out stategy direction and Mayo were suddenly four points down.

Credit to Mayo, they fought back to level matters but the tone of the game had being set. Hennelly was increasingly looking more vulnerable with each pass made; his high delivery to colleagues giving Dublin players plenty of optimism to chase down lost causes. The long range free at the end of the half spoke of a player who was devoid of any tangible confidence and it should not have being a surprise when he spilled the ball for the lead-up to the penalty. Black card saved him for even more anxiety.

The player will need a strong network of family, friends and GAA colleagues to gather around him and pick him up from this disastrous performance. Hennelly’s cameo is more to do with the panic in the Mayo management in their rationale to drop Clarke who after picking the ball out of the net from Connolly’s emphatic penalty was assured with solid ball distribution from the back. A fatal mistake from Mayo management; a clear 1-4 conceded from the decision and on All Ireland final days, you cannot expect to win championships based on monumental judgement call failures.

Dublin middle third distribution key to victory

This is where the final was won ultimately. Mayo had their fair share of possession but middle third distribution to their forward line lacked speed, direction or cohesion. Dublin had their homework done, they allowed the likes of Seamie O’Shea and Tom Parsons to take endless ball into Dublin territory knowing that they lacked the speed of thought and passing range to distribute into the likes of Cillian O’Connor inside in the full forward line. Andy Moran even had to venture far from the full forward line to try to unsettle Dublin tactically but it did not make a difference.

Dublin will believe that their performance was far from perfect but their middle third of Kilkenny, Fenton, MacAuley, Flynn provided tempo and game management when required. Their distribution in the last quarter was simple; quick ball to a Dublin player in space who tended to be super-sub Cormac Costello who dispatched his efforts over the bar. The same was not the case for Mayo who never looked like creating any goalscoring chances in that second half inside. The fact that Cillian O’Connor’s decisive missed free at the death was thirty plus meters out tells you all that you need to know on the ponderous, indecisive attacking movement from Mayo throughout these two contests.

Squad depth wins championships

Despite the colossal mistakes in team selection, Mayo were in contention to win this contest at the death but when Mayo’s back line tired, Dublin were able to launch the likes of Brogan, Costello and MacAuley off the bench to make an impact. Brogan and Costello striking decisive points in the final quarter; the moves leading to those scores were splendidly executed moving Mayo’s defensive this way and that. Costello’s awareness of space was rewarded with a dreamy five minute period where he hit three sweet points to ultimately win this contest. Mayo’s squad depth was exposed. Alan Dillon who was a massive injury doubt summoned for one last effort. Conor O’Shea was ponderous in the half-forward line who replaced Donal Vaughan. Stephen Coen did an admirable job defensively but yet again, it was a distinct lack of firepower options on the Mayo bench which ebbed this fixture away from the Westerners.

Black Card Fiasco

I did not envy Maurice Deegan yesterday; the needle leading into this contest, the media soundbites targeting several players from both sides was needless stuff. However, Deegan did not set the right tone from the first whistle. How John Small stayed on the pitch in the opening period was mind boggling? Black card offense within minutes of the final, several personal fouls in that opening period and yet no card to quell the player’s discipline issues. Cooper and Keegan’s black cards were laughable; the reaction of Mayo and Dublin players for each black card was very unsavory and one has to think that the paper clippings about Lee Keegan leaned heavily on that decision. Cooper should have stayed on if the Laois official thought Small had no case to answer for his black card discretion. It was an incredibly frustrating final to watch; whistle blown too many times to allow a tempo to form in the contest. Leinster official refereeing a final? Surely, Munster or Ulster official would have being the appointment route for this replay. The black card is a joke; needs to be refined to only apply for the third tackle. Tackling is too open to interpretation.

Jim Gavin – Managerial Legend

Two All Ireland’s in a row has set Jim Gavin and this crop of Dublin footballers as one of the best GAA teams in the history of the game. Dublin have a sweeper system with the effective Cian O’Sullivan but their attack minded focus is most welcome in an era where swarming defensive win at all costs football has plighted the sport for too long. Gavin had his critics in the opening final but his decisions to wield the axe in a rational manner was effective and highlighted the lack of control in Mayo’s managerial calls. Gavin provides a calm exterior to the media but his unerring preparation and scouting reports of opposition is sensational. Jim Gavin is the blueprint that every other intercounty manager needs to follow and with the likes of Fenton, Byrne, Costello, Mannion and the mercurial Kilkenny in the panel, this is a nucleus of players who will be winning more Sam Maguire’s in the years to come.

Mayo – Where to from here?

Not much to say at this time. Glorious opportunities spurned against a Dublin side who were there for the taking. Mental blocks both on and off the pitch again conspired Mayo on the biggest day of GAA football. Attacking options need to improve; the overdependency on O’Connor and Moran was evident early doors. O’Shea in the half-forward line showed fleeting attacking glimpses, not enough to get over the line. Kevin McLaughlin is a forward and not a sweeper. Coen is an ideal sweeper player. Time to reflect and with a promising U21 All Ireland winning team this season, several of these players will need to step up next season as the likes of Andy Moran and Alan Dillon consider their futures. Heartbreaking loss but they were the victims of their own downfall.