Jack O'Connor: Jim Gavin must find a fix for serious forward failings

Former Kerry All-Ireland winning manager, Jack O'Connor, runs the rule over Sunday's big game. 

They’ll tell you that coaches and managers learn more in defeat than victory. They learn most from a draw because replays afford the opportunity to make amends. And quickly.

Two weeks now. Jim Gavin won’t overthink the malfunctions in his attack yesterday, but he’s got big decisions to make on the shape and substance of his forward division for October 1st.

Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan are two marquee names and while you’d expect both to be named for the replay, it won’t surprise me if neither start.

They struggled more than most in Croke Park, but they were in good company - none of the six starters up front for the All-Ireland champions contributed greatly at the top end of the field, whereas Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion brought a crispness and sharpness to their play when introduced.

It’s an interesting dilemma for the Dublin management. Their free-flowing, easy on the eye approach is hampered by inclement conditions, all the more so when the pitch in question is Croke Park. How much of that was a factor in yesterday’s misfiring effort. The Dubs scored 12 points in a winning effort last year against Kerry, and only claimed nine points yesterday - with three of them frees.

The way Mayo are set up, with tackling a key element, their gameplan was going to be less disrupted yesterday by the conditions than Dublin’s. It beggared belief that a Dublin player didn’t score from play until the 33rd minute of the game. And if none of their forwards appeared to be making headway, the conditions only go some way to explaining that. Mayo’s defence, particularly their inside line, were outstanding in getting a hand in here, there and everywhere to deny the Dublin forwards any sort of possession to work with.

If that isn’t encouraging enough, the obstacles, psychological and otherwise, Stephen Rochford’s side overcame yesterday will give them a huge impetus for the replay. Going in five points down at the break despite playing well evidently wasn’t the crushing blow some might have thought it if their start to the second period was anything to go by. Mayo reeled off the first five points after half-time, and didn’t concede until the 50th minute. At that stage Seamus O’Shea’s attempted pass to Diarmuid O’Connor was intercepted and Brian Fenton pointed to restore Dublin’s lead. That was significant in itself, as O’Shea and O’Connor looked wearier than any of the Mayo players in the third quarter. They both could have been replaced sooner.

Mayo also lost three points in the last five minutes of normal time and still managed to mine a replay with the last three scores of the game. It’s not always true that the team snatching the draw has a psychological edge for the replay, but there’s a strong case to be made for it in this instance.

Fifteen points is no bad tally to finish with on such a difficult afternoon, but Rochford won’t need anyone, me least of all, telling him that the shape of his forward line needs tweaking. Andy Moran had a fine game but was too isolated too often yesterday.

Sporadically he was joined inside by Aidan O’Shea and there was one moment in the first half when (deliberately or not) Mayo looked to have found their best shape - with Moran and Doherty inside, Aidan O’Shea slightly withdrawn and Cillian O’Connor floating across the line - leaving McLoughlin and Diarmuid O’Connor to forage.

By not having a requisite number of options in the last third of the field, the half back line was forced to carry possession longer than they should - with the result that they coughed up ball and turned over possession too frequently for their comfort. This was especially prevalent in the first half, and would have been fatal had Dublin been on their game.

Mayo need to keep four forwards in a fairly advanced position when they have the ball. Whether the management will be prepared to tweak that before the replay will be interesting to see. A drier day on October 1st will present a different and more onerous challenge for Rochford and his players.

had more than a passing interest in yesterday’s All-Ireland minor final yesterday as Kerry completed three in a row, the first county to do so since Cork in 1969.

It wasn’t a vintage display from a much talked about group of players and nor did I expect it to me - there’s been too much hype about these lads, more than is good for them, and too much of it to ignore.

However claiming a third title continues their winning habit and for lads of this age, that is very important. It steels them for tougher times ahead; they are more prepared to go through the hard yards for success.

Kerry won five Munster U21 titles back in the period from 1995 to 1999, and won three All-Irelands in the period. It fed a decade of Kerry senior teams, and the scope is there now from these three groups to furnish their county with a bountiful amount of talent going forward. Not that talent, by itself, will suffice. But all three groups are made of the right stuff. The 2014 minor winners were well touted in advance.

Last year, the group was not as individually talented but they gelled really well together, and that’s critical too. Yesterday’s champions have a lot of individual talent too, and six or seven of them had already won an All-Ireland colleges with St Brendan’s. It’s a very positive foundation to build from.

But having witnessed the physicality and intensity of the senior game it is obvious there is still a huge step up and these players will have to put in the hard yards before they are ready to bridge that gap.

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