Dublin have changed how we think about success in football

So Mayo poked the bear, and the bear reacted by consuming them whole. In eight blistering minutes after the interval, Dublin turned a two-point deficit into and an eight-point lead.

Dublin have changed how we think about success in football

“His belly is never full.”

- Carlo Ancelotti on Cristiano Ronaldo

So Mayo poked the bear, and the bear reacted by consuming them whole. In eight blistering minutes after the interval, Dublin turned a two-point deficit into and an eight-point lead.

The ruthless manner and efficiency in which they accomplished this was scary and a reminder to all and sundry of who they are and what they are about.

Mayo started well and performed admirably for the first half, getting plenty right. As was once again illustrated, trying to sustain the Herculean effort required to stay with this Dublin team for the 70+ minutes is nigh on impossible.

Admittedly, Dublin looked off it early on. They were blowing hard and looked leggy. The fact that nearly all of them saw no action last weekend was probably a factor here and it took them the first half to settle and get their second wind.

Mayo needed to punish them more while they were gathering themselves, but James Horan’s men deserve massive credit for their first-half performance.

They were excellent on breaking ball on their own long kickouts and they disrupted Stephen Cluxton early, also. When Dublin force an opposing team out long, their usual tactic (if they can’t catch cleanly) is to burst it back in and attack the breaks, often winning them.

Their half-forward line is brilliant at timing their runs to latch onto these breaks. Mayo were ready for this and rather than having their half-backs contesting breaks, their half-forward line came around to their own side of midfield and picked up break after break.

This allowed them to break Dublin’s momentum after a score and get back up the field again.

Mayo put very little up for grabs in possession, avoided contact and costly turnovers, and their conversion rate improved markedly. However, I did feel that they lacked a presence inside.

Andy Moran was on the bench in that first half and could have been the ideal target man to allow them to vary their approach, as space did open up inside.

As usual, they bludgeoned their way through the middle and kicked great scores off this. Patrick Durcan on Jack McCaffrey worked a treat.

It was fascinating watching McCaffrey head off on one of his trademark bursts, off the ball, in an effort to get on the end of a move, as he has been doing all summer.

It was no less riveting to observe Durcan track him every step of the way, matching his pace step by step, and preventing McCaffrey from getting on the ball. Durcan chipped in with two great points himself, too.

Mayo also defended heroically in the first half. Brendan Harrison was hanging on for dear life in his battle with Paul Mannion, but was surviving. Lee Keegan was accounting for Con O’Callaghan.

They also dispossessed — at different times — McCaffrey, Brian Fenton, and James McCarthy with ferocious and well-timed tackles. There was a worryingly last-ditch feeling about it, but they were enduring. And then half time came. I felt that two points wasn’t going to be enough, considering the amount of football they had played.

Then Dublin did what Dublin do at half time and regrouped. Whatever was said, it was a different team that emerged — full of intent and hunger which was noticeably absent in the first half.

They have so many different types of players but they all play with their heads, and their football intelligence is superb.

For example, from the throw-in, Michael Dara McCauley fired the ball towards the Mayo goals where Dean Rock was charging out towards it. He bought a free by cleverly making sure that Conor Lane saw his hand being pulled by Chris Barrett. He duly converted it, and the tone was set.

Losing a semi-final is the worst feeling and Mayo now have a long winter to reflect on what might have been. One of the things they will be most disappointed with is that they never found a way off the ropes, even though they had chances.

On Saturday, I wrote in these pages about the importance of killing the ball when you attack, to rob Dublin of the counter-attack, and to stop the bleeding when they are in full-power mode.

Take the build-up for Con O’Callaghan’s first goal: Stephen Cluxton stopped a Durcan shot going over the bar by batting the ball down to himself, and Dublin broke straight downfield. Within seconds, the net at the other end was bulging.

Con O'Callaghan scores Dublin's second goal. Picture: Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan scores Dublin's second goal. Picture: Sportsfile

The groundwork for O’Callaghan’s second goal came when Diarmuid O’Connor was stripped of possession in a borderline foul in front of the Hogan Stand and after a more elaborate build-up, Dublin exacted the ultimate reward.

I also felt before the match on Saturday that the Mayo match-ups were not ideal, in particular the players who would be marking O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion. T

he pair scored 2-5 between them from play. I understand Lee Keegan’s value as a man-marker, but there is so much more to his game. Whatever about doing a job in the half-back line, I feel he is wasted inside.

It might be time to take off the shackles and let him hurt opposition with the ball, rather than opponents without it.

He got his goal when he moved out to the half-back line on Ciarán Kilkenny. Their kickout strategy also blew up in the second half, as Brian Fenton stormed into the game and took over the middle of the field.

When that kind of heat comes on, a goalkeeper and team must have a go-to kickout that guarantees them possession. Sadly, this ploy was lacking on Saturday evening.

In general, it has been a positive season for Mayo —winning national silverware — but Horan knows that to sustain a challenge through the Super 8s and All-Ireland series, the front door is the preferable route.

Jim Gavin continues with his evolution of Dublin and it is always informative and enjoyable to watch them in the flesh. They are so well-coached and so good at making the right decisions and executing them that they are hard to stop. In their current guise, they are fluid, flexible, and resilient.

In the 1974 World Cup, West Germany played a brand of soccer that became known as ‘Ramba Zamba’. It was a term used to describe their fluidity and player interchange, and was personified by Franz Beckenbauer.

Dublin play a modern Gavin version of the Ramba Zamba, with players interchanging and playing a variety of roles throughout the game.

Brian Fenton and Tom Parsons shake hands at full-time. Picture: Sportsfile
Brian Fenton and Tom Parsons shake hands at full-time. Picture: Sportsfile

A good example is Brian Howard, who was selected as a wing forward.

In the course of the game, he scored an important point before half time to cut the margin to two, won breaks, put in tackles, carried ball, linked the play, transitioned it up field, was a long-kickout target for Cluxton and, most interestingly, sat in as sweeper on a few different occasions.

As a player, it must be so enjoyable to be challenged yet trusted and to play in such a well-structured team with such freedom.

To emphasise their fluidity and flexibility, the backs tear up the field to create overlaps and take scores, the forwards sit as sweepers, the full-forward line tackle and work as hard as anyone, and to a man their skill executions are on the money.

Carlo Ancelotti could have been talking about Dublin just as easily as he was about Ronaldo when he said: “His belly is never full”.

Ronaldo (as did Messi) invented new rules with regard to the prodigious number of goals he was scoring each season.

There was a time when a 20-goals-a-season forward was seen as being invaluable, whereas Ronaldo —through sheer desire and hard work — made it the norm to score 40-50 goals annually.

Similarly, Dublin have changed how we think about success in football. A decade ago, it was remarkable to win back-to-back All-Irelands. They are now on the brink of a five-in-a-row, and showing no signs of letting up.

I keep thinking there has to be some twist on the road, that they can’t just stroll into the history books, but if there is going to be a twist, it needs to happen quickly!

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