Stephen Rochford’s tweaks win tactics battle

Talking points from last weekend’s GAA action.

To stick or twist

Stephen Rochford and his management team stayed true to their beliefs and didn’t overreact to the negative commentary on their decision to put Aidan O’Shea on Kieran Donaghy in the drawn game.

On Saturday, O’Shea again marshalled Donaghy, with some small tweaks to the drawn game that allowed him put his own stamp on proceedings. At times Mayo rotated the men on the edge of the square with Seamie O’Shea and Donie Vaughan picking Donaghy up which allowed Aidan have much more impact as an attacking threat.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice chose the more drastic option, a change of system as well as three personnel switches, most noticeably leaving James O’Donoghue on the bench.

The idea of playing Paul Murphy as a sweeper was the right call but the players didn’t execute it to the level required. Too many times Kerry defenders lost individual battles and were beaten by their direct opponent.

The focus on the defensive changes left Kerry void of an attacking structure. The decision to leave Shane Enright on Andy Moran for as long as they did was also costly.

Mayo leaders

We know Mayo will be facing into their 10th championship game when the third Sunday in September rolls around. What this group of Mayo players have come through over the course of the summer has been an incredible achievement. There can be no questions asked about their heart or their character.

Mayo have come through big semi-finals in the past and they have ultimately counted for nothing.

The talk of Andy Moran or Keith Higgins being in line for Player of the Year is fine for their supporters to engage in but is not of any concern to those in the dressing room.

While Kerry waited to see how their tactical changes would work, Mayo were out of the blocks and being driven forward by the likes of Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle.

When things tightened slightly in the second half and with Cillian O’Connor off to a black card, Jason Doherty took on the responsibility of nailing a tough free and a 45. Like Higgins’ brilliant one-on-one defending on Paul Geaney in the closing stages of the drawn game, it was a big player making a big play at the right time.

Performance of efficiency

Jim Gavin continuously talks about taking it one game at a time, not looking past the next opponent, and challenging his team to be the best they can be.

Some try to dismiss these comments as soundbites or cliches but it is very much the reality and culture of this Dublin group. They continue to look to evolve and improve and yesterday they gave arguably their most controlled and efficient performance.

It would be hard to find fault with anything Dublin produced in the opening 15 minutes. From the start they were the ones pushing the pace and every play was laced with intent. They were calm in possession but were always probing for that soft spot in the Tyrone defence. The practice and preparation they have clearly spent hours on in the build-up was obvious as they maintained touchline hugging width and looked to inject pace at the right times.

Con O’Callaghan’s brilliantly taken goal will rightly get the headlines but some of the points Dublin manufactured were equally impressive. Paddy Andrews and Dean Rock both finished scores after slick interchange play between multiple forwards where no player took more than one touch. This one touch movement kept the Tyrone back line chasing and reacting rather than getting a chance to make contact or get their base set up.

No plan B

We knew how Tyrone were going to approach the game in Croke Park. The gameplan and system looked to have kicked on from last year and with big scores and comfortable victories in all four championship matches this season, we expected a very different challenge to that which materialised.

I expected Dublin to ask serious questions of their defensive shape but I didn’t expect the reaction from Tyrone when the champions got off to such an explosive start. Dublin had 1-5 on the scoreboard after 15 minutes but we had yet to see a Tyrone player put in any hit or tackle of any significance. Their aggression levels and body language both went downhill quickly and there was no reaction or change from any player on the pitch or from Mickey Harte.

In the 2005 quarter-final, I was part of a Dublin team that went in five points up against Tyrone at half-time after scoring 1-10 in the first half. Our message at the break was for more of the same but Harte and Tyrone made three substitutions, as well as positional switches, to counter our strengths as we struggled to just four second-half points and to hold on for a draw.

Where were the changes yesterday? Where was plan B? Tyrone were confident coming to Croke Park but arriving with just one gameplan could be considered overconfident.

The hard yards

When picking the bones out of the two games, it’s likely Andy Moran or Con O’Callaghan will take plaudits for their goalscoring performances. Cillian O’Connor and Dean Rock added their usual returns from placed balls but some of the standout forward performances over the two games came from attackers helping the team in different ways.

For Dublin, Paul Mannion and Niall Scully both had highly influential games while only contributing one point between them. In the first half alone, Mannion was directly involved in four turnovers of Tyrone players having chased back and tracked runners on multiple occasions. Scully also regained possession from a direct tackle as well as being a strong kickout option for Stephen Cluxton, winning two long deliveries early on.

Kevin McLaughlin and Jason Doherty played similar roles for Mayo. They constantly gave their defenders an option and made life miserable for Kerry defenders trying to break out. Could any Tyrone or Kerry forward say they worked as hard as the above four did for their teams?


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