Recently retired attacker Alan Dillon reckons the Mayo and Cork forwards are kindred spirits, undervalued and underappreciated by the majority of neutrals.
Mayo qualified for six All-Ireland finals during Dillon’s 14-year career, though only six different forwards in that period were rewarded with All-Stars.
Dillon was one of those, gaining recognition in 2006 and 2012, though Mayo’s attackers were ignored entirely in 2013 and 2016, when they lost to Dublin by a point in finals.
Cork were snubbed in 2010, when they won the All-Ireland, but failed to win a single All-Star in attack. The barb consistently tossed at Mayo is that a lack of star talent up front has prevented them from winning the All-Ireland title they crave.
Jim McGuinness, Donegal boss when they beat Mayo in the 2012 decider, reiterated that point last summer, when he said it’s been their “Achilles heel” and that when he looks for a gifted forward in their lineup, “I don’t see that player”.
Dillon said the criticism isn’t based on reality and he noted how Cillian O’Connor is just 43 points off overtaking Colm Cooper as the most prolific championship scorer.
“Back then, in my earlier days, we had a variety of scorers,” said Dillon. “Okay, Conor Mortimer used to chip in with the bulk of them, but we were probably as good as any in terms of other teams, but maybe the narrative was that we were short of marquee forwards, but define a marquee forward? People still question whether Cillian O’Connor is a marquee forward, but he’s nearly coming into the realms of the ‘Gooch’ as being one of the all-time championship scorers. That’s a feat in itself and he’s still only 25, or something like that. Until you win an All-Ireland, you’ll always have that opinion.
“You could talk about the Cork teams, as well. The likes of Donncha O’Connor, Colm O’Neill, these fellas, they were always brilliant players. I wouldn’t say their forwards and our forwards are too far apart. I suppose it’s the general perception that’s out there [about Mayo’s forwards], but it’s not the reality.”
Likewise, Dillon said it’s wrong to suggest Mayo have a psychological block with beating Dublin after losing three All-Ireland finals to Jim Gavin’s men by a point.
“I wouldn’t say they have a hoodoo over Mayo. I suppose a factor is that we play our best football in certain periods of the game, but we don’t actually play it when we need to play it and that’s in the last 10 or 15 minutes. We don’t finish out games as strongly as Dublin, in terms of they’re really strong in the last quarter. That’s something that Stephen Rochford and his team are probably focusing on.”
Dillon said the major advantage Dublin possess in those crucial closing minutes is the talent of the substitutes they bring on. Eoghan O’Gara kicked two important points as a sub in the 2013 final win over Mayo. Kevin McManamon scored 1-1 from the bench in both semi-finals against Mayo in 2015, while Cormac Costello fired three match-winning scores after coming on in the 2016 final.
Diarmuid Connolly did much of the damage in last September’s narrow win for Dublin, coming on and contributing directly to four second-half points. Mayo, in turn, got no scoring return from the six subs they brought on in last year’s final.
“A lot of focus will be on the impact of our bench,” said Dillon. “That’s been Dublin’s big strength. They’re finishing with six players that can all contribute. That’s definitely something, that if we can unearth one or two finishers, from that point of view, it would be great.”
The first GAA Player Conference will take place at Croke Park on Saturday, Feb 17. It is open to all adult players. Bookings: learning.gaa.ie
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