Well yesterday in Croke Park every one of the 82,300 leaving the ground would have accepted another viewing if available to try and really take in what unfolded over the previous 75 minutes.
So while we know we have a replay next Saturday at 5pm to look forward to, let’s try to digest some of the key aspects of what both teams will have taken from a pulsating round one.
Let’s look at Mayo first. The usual pre-game chess match of trying to identify the personnel and positional changes to the teams named midweek was happening all over the ground as Lee Keegan swept Mayo into a first minute lead. Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly had opted to go with Robert Hennelly ahead of David Clarke in goal. I took this as nod to Mayo favouring Hennelly’s comfort in a short kick-out game where he has more variation and ability to adapt his restarts than Clarke who is more reliant on longer traditional kick-outs to midfield.
The second change for Mayo was quarter-final man of the match Barry Moran being left out for David Drake, not a name anyone outside the county set up expected to see starting.
The role of Drake was to drop deep and play as a wing back and allow Colm Boyle take up the sweeper role in front of the Dublin inside line.
As with every Dublin game, much of the pre-match analysis was on Stephen Cluxton kick-outs but with Mayo’s decision to play a sweeper Cluxton had the option to chip to a corner-back to restart the game, an option which he took the majority of the time. Mayo were content to let this happen and then looked to press the Dublin defender who had received the kick and force him to pass back to his goalkeeper. It was a balance between giving up primary possession but forcing Dublin to build slower than they’d like from the back.
From an attacking perspective Mayo were very limited in the first 45 minutes and were heavily reliant on Cillian O’Connor’s frees to keep them in touch. The fact only one starting forward scored from play throughout the 75 minutes — Diarmuid O’Connor — will be a major concern but on the flip side Alan Freeman and Andy Moran both made big impacts from the bench.
Holmes and Connelly will know their team have much room for improvement ahead of next week but will take most satisfaction from the composure their players showed when seven points down.
This strong finish further confirms the maturity of these players and their ability to trust in the process and keep playing a team first game.
From a Dublin perspective, their first half display will please and frustrate in equal measure. They will be pleased with their ability to create and take scoring chances even with the deployment of Boyle as a sweeper.
Dublin’s strategy shows they clearly expected a sweeper and one of the best ways to negate the effectiveness of such a tactic is to play high quality diagonal balls that bypass the area he is occupying.
Dublin did this exceptionally well in the first half, Paul Flynn in particular arrowed accurate passes that allowed the likes of Ciarán Kilkenny, Paddy Andrews and Bernard Brogan to all score.
Dublin will be extremely frustrated giving so many kickable frees away and even more so with the fact Joe McQuillan moved three of them closer to goal due to back chat.
Mayo had also tried a quota of long diagonal balls but with Philly McMahon matching up well with Aidan O’Shea and both Stephen Cluxton and other Dublin defenders quick to surround any breaking ball it meant Mayo had little or no clear sight at goal throughout.
ublin were forced to be patient when building attacks by Mayo’s pressing approach. It meant Dublin were forced into lateral and backwards passes and at times had too many men deep which limited their ability to kick pass from defence. Ideally the likes of Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Michael Darragh MacAuley would be outlets for these type of passes but too many times a Dublin player was forced to look for his second or third option.
The last 10 minutes of the game will come under the closest review, a key turning point for me was the black card of Denis Bastick who had made a big difference when introduced. Dublin lost control around the middle and allowed Mayo control the tempo of the closing stages. Dublin will wake up today with more questions than answers. The short turnaround will focus their minds to find a solution. We can’t wait for the outcome.