TONY MCENTEE: Dublin do a Jean van de Velde

What has Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot, the Boston Red Sox in 1978 and Jean van de Velde at the 1999 British Open got in common with this Dublin team?

They all completely collapsed with the winning line in sight.

Mickelson was closing in on the title with a three-shot lead and hit an errant shot into a garbage bin to begin a dramatic collapse. The Red Sox lost a 12-match lead against their arch rivals, the New York Yankees, whereas Van de Velde was leading by three with only the last hole to play and managed to triple bogey. However none of these examples were against Mayo – a team who has never won the major title, a team who are perennial nearly men, a team whom many believe are absent of the necessary courage, mettle and know-how to win.

By any standard this was an impressive collapse but what is the basis for it and can it be remedied?

Since this current Dublin team came to prominence there has been a constant and occasionally vocal call to separate Dublin county and create two teams, such is the depth of talent at the disposal of Jim Gavin.

This has never materialised, and correctly so as a simple scratch to the surface of this Dublin panel will quickly unveil that the once heralded overflow of talent is somewhat limited and probably shrinking.

The loss of Cormac Costello, Paul Mannion and especially Eoghan O’Gara have turned the country’s most exciting forward line into a pale shadow of itself.

Bernard Brogan, with 5-18 from play, albeit mainly against lesser defenders, is no longer capable of winning these games on his own, Dean Rock remains an unproven championship forward, and despite a good first half display (two points) from Paddy Andrews the sting is certainly not as fearsome as it once was.

But here is the crux of my point: When you go to the bench, Jim Gavin is selecting Alan Brogan (a talented footballer) who has come back from retirement and an out-of-sorts Kevin McManamon to add spice to a forward unit which again yesterday was not clicking. Not exactly inspiring! Broaden your mind then and consider the performances of Paul Flynn with only one wide to his credit and Diarmuid Connolly who only had one shot from play. Has Dublin anyone to replace these brilliant players when they are not on form?

But it is in midfield that the Dublin management have the greatest difficulties. For years they have been absent of a high-fielding player in the mould of Brian Mullins which clearly evolved from the change in kick-out strategy towards a shorter possession system.

Dublin do a Jean van de Velde

Yesterday we saw the difficulties this possesses when teams push up on Cluxton’s kick-outs forcing him to go long, thereby exposing his team’s aerial deficits. Fenton is a young talent and certainly one for the future but he is not comforted by the primary possession capabilities of M.D. Macauley or indeed Denis Bastick.

Still not agreeing with me? Then consider how the Dublin defence would have fared had the officials been stricter with Jonny Cooper’s aggressive defending or indeed had Cian O’Sullivan received the black card he deserved.

It’s the loss of a primary ball-winner and the malfunctioning forward unit that set the platform for this collapse. Mayo’s Keith Higgins, a properly fabulous footballer, Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle recognised this and repeatedly drove forward time and time again creating overlaps and exposing gaps in a tiring Dublin defence. Tom Parsons, and the introduction of Barry Moran, were the primary ball-winners that ensured the pressure from kick-outs remained in Mayo’s advantage. Once the momentum was created it was only a matter of maintaining it. Seven points down with eight to play, Mayo should have been lamenting another sad story and wishing that the hope which rose from the closure of Croagh Patrick never happened.

It has been a long time coming but is it possible that this Mayo team have more strength in depth than Dublin? It sounds sacrilege to even suggest it. Many are saying that the team which learns the most from the draw wins; maybe it is the team that has most to improve is the one who will win. If this is the case, then it is there for Mayo to win as one point from the starting six forwards can only be improved upon.

A crude analysis will testify that it is Dublin who lost this victory with the end in sight. It is the manner of this collapse that will concern the management team. Having lost six of the last eight semi-finals that Dublin have competed in, I wonder is there something deeper inside this Dublin team that is holding them back.

Maybe it is much simpler, maybe it is just their indiscipline.

Is it possible that Mayo have more strength in depth than Dublin?

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