Okay, it’s getting closer now to the replay than the drawn match so it’s probably about time to start looking forward rather than back. Granted that is not the easiest thing during a replay week considering there is only a six-day turnaround.
But we are well aware of what it is like to be involved in a replay week, something that Dublin cannot claim. The 2005 All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone was their last high profile replay in the championship, prior to that it was the quarter-final against Kerry in Thurles back in 2001.
Much of the discussion surrounding the replay has been about who can learn more in the intervening six days. I personally had to laugh listening to Off The Ball on Tuesday evening when Mossy Quinn believed that six days was more than enough for Dublin to work on their problems but that Mayo would need more time. Cause we all know it takes the thick culchies a bit longer to work on things.
Now this is not a piece aimed at riling up the already toxic environment that is surrounding this match. With the likes of Charlie Redmond and Senan Connell doing their damnedest to get the backs of the Dublin fans so far up that god knows what will happen on Saturday. There are already many reports of abuse and violence taking place in the stands on Sunday, that could potentially only increase this Saturday after the comments of some Dublin pundits.
Thankfully the Mayo pundits are keeping quiet, with the exception of Kevin McStay who many outside of Dublin will tell you was unbiased and restrained on RTE last Sunday.
Onto the point of this piece. What can be fixed in six days and can Mayo use the week better than their opponents? My opinion is yes they can, and here is what they need to do.
Get the sweeper right
On Sunday Noel Connolly and Pat Holmes threw Ballaghaderreen’s David Drake into the championship for the first time. In what was a serious curve ball the debutant put in a good shift and did nothing wrong. However, I believe that he didn’t do anything great either.
Acting as somewhat of a second sweeper alongside Colm Boyle, the wing-back was supposed to be the link man between defence and attack but was caught in possession on a few occasions trying to fulfill that role.
Drake is a very good footballer, you don’t make this current Mayo panel if you are not, but being thrown into the cauldron of Croke Park against Dublin may have been just a little too much.
Granted, he was not helped by the fact that when he did try carry the ball forward, there was generally only a well marshalled Aidan O’Shea in the forwards.
Instead what I would like to see on Saturday evening is just a single sweeper. Mayo need to push up a bit more on the Dublin kickouts and that could offer the Dubs the chance to kick the ball beyond midfield. If that were to happen then the use of Colm Boyle or Paddy Durcan as the man floating around defence, always ready to break towards the ball or indeed forward with the ball, could be the way to go.
Drake has a huge role to play for Mayo and will have a bright future in Green and Red, but being thrown in this late in the championship is asking an awful lot. Despite how well he performed on Sunday, a different tactic is needed and that is the single sweeper.
Push up, but not too much
The zonal marking worked to a certain extent on Sunday, keeping the ball generally inside the 14-yard line on Cluxton’s kickouts and forcing Dublin to start running from almost the endline.
Where it didn’t work is that when a Dublin player got past the first tackle there tended to be a serious amount of space for them to run into coming up to midfield.
In the last ten minutes in particular, we saw Mayo push up on Cluxton’s kickouts and pilfer 1-4 without reply. Mayo are the best team in the country when it comes to frustrating Cluxton and pushing up on his kickouts. We have seen it on numerous occasions over the past few years and the only time it was not done successfully, the 2013 final, was the one time we lost.
What Mayo need to do on Sunday is push up on Cluxton’s kickouts but not all the time. Much like moving Aidan O’Shea between full- and half-forward, Dublin need to be kept guessing on what Mayo are going to do each time Cluxton sets up for a kickout.
If Mayo can once again frustrate Cluxton then they force him into making decisions he does not want to make. It cannot be discounted that Cluxton is just like a child in their pram. If something happens that is not supposed to and he is not offered a free ride through the 70+ minutes then he gets ratty and throws out the toys. We saw that on Sunday during the second half, he even has an obvious tell with flailing arms in the air, and it worked a treat.
I would start the game zonally, switch to man marking and pushing up after about 15 minutes and then do the same in the second half. Mayo have the fitness on Dublin, that was shown in the drawn game, and that type of tactic could bring our superior fitness into play.
When you push up on Stephen Cluxton, as Mayo in the past have proved along with Donegal, you annoy him and force him to kick the ball long. When that happens the Dublin ‘possession restart’, as they like to call it, becomes erratic. Dublin cannot guarantee midfield ball, unlike when Cluxton kicks the ball sideways towards his corner-back, or even behind him to Cian O’Sullivan as happened on one occasion last Sunday
Big Barry Moran is needed on the field this Saturday to offer Mayo another aerial threat. As soon as Moran came on last Sunday he caught a huge ball in midfield and was involved in Bastick’s black card, which was blatantly correct by the way.
If Mayo are going to push up more on Cluxton and force him to kick it long then Dublin are going to try and repeat their 2013 tactics and drag our midfielders away from the ball. That is not going to be easy if Mayo have three big midfielders on the pitch alongside the likes of Diarmuid O’Connor and Lee Keegan who are more than adept around the middle of the park.
Michael Darragh McAuley and Denis Bastick, the likely midfield partnership for Dublin, will not be able to live with a crowded Mayo midfield. Of course it all hinges on making sure Cluxton kicks long.
Take your points
This one may be obvious but just look back to the opening 20 minutes of the second half on Sunday. In that period Mayo had the chance to put themselves in the ascendency on the scoreboard to match their ascendency on the pitch. Instead what we got was some wides from Jason Doherty, Kevin McLoughlin and Andy Moran along with a few shots dropping well short of the posts.
It is no slight on the players for hitting those wides, generally coming under some form of pressure from the Dublin defence, but this Saturday those chances have to be taken. If that means recycling the ball one more time then so be it. When Dublin got their chance to get in the ascendency they put away 1-3 without reply in a four-minute spell.
That is what Mayo need to bring in to Saturday. They have shown many times this season they are more than capable of it.
Run, run, run
Mayo’s biggest strength is their direct running game. We have seen that over the past number of years, not least in the second half of last year’s drawn semi-final with Kerry and the first half of the replay.
With Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins and Patrick Durcan running from deep alongside Diarmuid O’Connor, Tom Parsons, Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin coming off the shoulder, Mayo can be nigh on unstoppable when coming at you.
Add in the possibility of Aidan O’Shea running directly at the defence from the centre-forward position instead of receiving the ball around the edge of the square and driving towards goal, much like he did in Limerick last year, and Mayo become a different attacking proposition.
On Sunday there was far too many instances of either one man or no men at all coming off the shoulder of the man on the ball. Too often players around the midfield area just lumped the ball in aimlessly at Aidan O’Shea in the hope that his size and skill could benefit.
That may not work so well on Saturday and Mayo need to play to their strengths. They certainly did it for the last ten minutes and it reaped huge reward.
Mayo would likely have at least one All-Ireland title in the past ten years if the sideline acted quicker. In 2006 it was not making the full-back changes when they were needed, instead waiting too long. In 2012 it was the exact same problem while in 2013 it was not noticing that Dublin looked like the extras from The Walking Dead in the final few minutes. And the less said about last year the better. I still don’t think we can necessarily talk about that one without hyperventilating.
Holmes and Connolly have already shown this season that they are not afraid to make the big calls, both before and during a game. Even on Sunday they threw Paddy Durcan and David Drake into action when the likes of Kevin Keane and Andy Moran had more experience. But the management knew those players would be needed later in the day, well Andy certainly was anyway.
Tactical decisions can be the winning and losing of championship games in modern football and the Mayo management team certainly look brave enough to make those decisions.
Unfortunately it is not as simple as just putting these ideas into practice and Mayo will win. These are merely ideas of what Mayo could do to get the upper hand and be ahead on the scoreboard at the 74th or 75th minute, even later if the game goes like last Sunday.
Saturday is fast becoming the most important game of the past five years for Mayo. These guys have no quit in them and will fight to the very end. The same goes for the management. I can put forward these ideas, or somebody else can do something similar, and all ideas could be blown out of the water with a big surprise on Saturday.
I hope you have a ticket!