Of the many things outside Dublin manager Jim Gavin’s control approaching tomorrow’s All-Ireland football final replay, the weather is at the very top of that list.
It is probably the thing that can affect his team’s performance most, however, with wet weather blamed for blunting Dublin’s attacking edge in each of the last twofinals.
They hit just 14 points from play across those two games, against Kerry last year and Mayo last Sunday week, and it won’t please Gavin that the forecast is for more showers throughout tomorrow.
Peter Keane, manager of the All-Ireland winning Kerry minors, labelled the pitch an ‘ice rink’ moments before the drawn senior game began 12 days ago and claimed the ball was ‘like a bar of soap’.
Various players have claimed the surface is too hard, and overly slippery when wet, though stadium director Peter McKenna has insisted it is not an issue and that the surface is constantly monitored and assessed.
Gavin isn’t convinced and claimed that the current pitch simply doesn’t cope well with rain.
“Croke Park doesn’t handle that,” said Gavin. “We had two and a half millimetres of rain the last day on the pitch and if it’s anything around that level of rain, probably because it’s rolled so much and the grass is cut so tight, about 30 millimetres I think, it makes it very slippy and it makes it very difficult, for both teams, for Mayo and Dublin.
“That’s the evidence that you can see anyway. You just have to get on with it. You can’t control that.”
Former Dublin captain Colin Moran has called on the GAA to investigate the pitch issue in light of the last two finals.
“I’m sure they are, I’m sure they know that it’s not good enough,” said Gavin.
Right now, the two-time All-Ireland winning manager can only deal with issues within his control as Dublin chase back-to-back successes.
Squad selection is his biggest and it surprised some that Gavin didn’t recall 2015 Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey after his return to Ireland from an extended travel break five weeks ago.
As things turned out, the wing-back would have been the ideal replacement for James McCarthy when he was black carded in the drawn final.
“Jack made that decision and we respected it,” said Gavin.
“His decision was to take himself out of the inter-county football space for the 2016 season and that was his decision and we move on and we have great faith in the team that we have and that is the way we look at it.”
John Small has capitalised on McCaffrey’s absence to nail down the left half-back slot and his excellent performance in the stalemate has left him eyeing an All Star.
“John’s a teak-tough defender, with lots of pace, great skill set and he is a very good decision maker on the ball with very good game intelligence,” said Gavin.
“He had played in those central positions, in the half-back line, for his club, Ballymun Kickhams, and I would have had him as an U21 so have noticed him a lot.”
Gavin said his players are viewing the replay in a positive light though they might have got the job done the first day if Diarmuid Connolly had recycled possession from a sideline kick instead of going for a point, allowing Mayo to create the equaliser.
Asked if Connolly was angry with himself, Gavin shook his head.
“No, not at all,” said Gavin, who defended Connolly’s decision to go for the score. “That’s up to players on the field of play. Diarmuid thought it was on, we give him that expression.
“We’ll influence and give them a tactical framework to play within but there’s no guarantee if they went short that they wouldn’t have been turned over anyway.”
Gavin revealed that some players had to rearrange personal plans due to the replay while he had to head away for “a few days” of work in Brussels.
The panel still convened four times for pitch sessions, in stark contrast to the solitary pitch session that John O’Mahony’s Galway footballers had before the last football final replay in 2001.
Gavin said there is a determined mood within the panel not to rely on luck again.
“There’s a sense that we got lucky the last day. In the first-half, we weren’t scoring from play until very late in that first-half when we drove hard at them.
“Two lucky breaks for goals.
“Yes, we created those opportunities, but we didn’t execute them. It was Mayo that executed them for us. So we got lucky on the day.”
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