Small margins can make all the difference

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

Doing things right: James Horan will have prepared his side as best he can to make the right decisions. Photo: Sportsfile

Doing things right: James Horan will have prepared his side as best he can to make the right decisions. Photo: Sportsfile

Mayo have had some rotten luck in All Ireland finals in recent years. They’ve pushed Dublin to the pin of their collar on numerous occasions and seen things just tilt against them.

You can’t plan for two own goals going in during a game you are dominating - but there are things that Mayo will have to get right or as close to right if they are to derail the Dublin drive for six-in-a-row.

James Horan and his backroom team are shrewd operators and will have everything planned as well as they can - it has always been his way of not leaving anything to chance within reason.

But making sure those plans are executed as well as they possibly can be is out of their hands once the players cross the white line.

Kick-outs and their importance have dominated plenty of discussions over the past few seasons, and Mayo will be looking to get their own kick-out strategy right.

David Clarke is up there with the best you’ll find in goalkeepers - his shot-stopping is top class, his domination of the square when a high ball comes in is peerless, but there are questions on certain facets of his re-starts.

He’s not Stephen Cluxton or Rory Beggan - but he’s an excellent short restarter. He’ll find his target most times with short kick-outs to the corner, so a lot will be up to the likes of Oisin Mullin, Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan to show their strength and work the ball out from there. With the ball not being allowed to be played back to the ‘keeper from the first possession after a kick-out, it will be up to the full back line and those in front of them to make sure that Mayo can control the ball and work it out from defence.

Clarke is going to have to go long at certain stages of the game and he can boot it a fair distance, but it’s the ones in the middle ground between the midfield and the 45m line that Mayo will have to be perfect on - those making the runs have to give him a good target to aim at and more than 50/50 chance of winning the ball, because if Dublin turn you over there, they are gone like a shot.

Keeping the discipline

Discipline is another key area that Mayo have to make sure they are on top of. They tackle hard and turn over teams like no-other all over the park. But late challenges or sloppy hands give away frees which will be punished by Dean Rock if they are in scoring distance. The same is of course a factor for the Dublin defence with Cillian O’Connor on hand to slot them over for Mayo.

Ensuring the full complement stay on the field for the duration will be key, going down to 14 for ten minutes because of black card or for the rest of the game could be a killer - especially if a black card comes after the second water break.

The water breaks are another interesting feature in the games this year, they can either be key in stopping a team keeping up a run on you or killing your own momentum. The minute break allows a few tweaks and turns to be made by management and in a game that will be as keenly poised as this one, what happens there could be crucial.

Being efficient and patient

Efficiency up front is going to a major factor come tomorrow. Dublin are the masters of working the score - they’ll swing the ball across the arc in front of the D like a basketball team, waiting for the right moment to strike and take on the percentage shot. They don’t like to take on the risky score, preferring to wear you down and lull you in to create that bit of space for a shooter from close range or to draw the foul for the tap over free.

Mayo were pretty efficient themselves against Tipperary with only their first wide registered before the hour mark, but they did drop a couple of them short in to the goalkeepers arms - they’ll not want to do that often tomorrow as Dublin will spring from defence to attack quickly from that kind of miss and will look to punish Mayo from there.

Being patient and holding the head when under pressure will be key for Mayo to make sure they get their shots off from good positions and not hitting hopeful efforts because they have been pushed into a cul-de-sac by Dublin.

Retaining possession will be another big area Mayo have to get right, they have the strength and speed to get out of tight situations - but they will have to be at 100 per cent to ensure they don’t get swallowed up by Dublin. If they have to go back with the ball to keep it and keep the ball in hand, then so-be-it - because getting turned over in a dangerous position or a sloppy foot pass from the middle of the park could spell all kinds of danger for them.

Playing on their own terms

Along with retaining possession Mayo will be looking to play the game on their own terms, it is something they have always done against Dublin. When others have stepped back and tried to shut up shop against the Dubs, Mayo have always taken on the challenge front facing and said we’ll do this our way and see where the chips land.

There is no point in sitting back and letting Dublin control the game, they’ll kill you with a thousand little cuts and before you know it they’ve clipped on five scores and it seems like they weren’t doing much. Mayo don’t do that and won’t do that tomorrow.

Options off the bench is something that Dublin have stacked in their favour in recent meetings, they have always seemed to have the option of bringing on someone who’ll not see their overall standard drop, but often improve that. Mayo have realistically before not really had that - it is something that James Horan looks to have addressed this year - with competition for places in the 26-man matchday squad fiercer than it has ever been and some experienced faces getting no time there at all.

Mayo saw Bryan Walsh, Mark Moran and Fionn McDonagh miss out on the match day squad last time due to minor knocks, but in came James Carr, Paul Towey and Fergal Boland, while the likes of Keith Higgins and Tom Parsons have all the experience you need to call on and others like Colm Boyle and Seamus O’Shea are battling to get into contention - so Mayo will have options and it’s something Horan has curated this year and could be a game changer down the home straight.


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