Mayo suffered a crushing and embarrassing 12 point defeat at the hands of All-Ireland champions Dublin last Saturday. Dublin, having drawn their last two games which they easily could have lost, had me fully convinced it was set up for Mayo to end their great two and half year and 32 game unbeaten run in league and championship.
I along with a lot more got it horribly wrong. Dublin were sensational despite missing up to 12 regulars from their match day panel, and Mayo were simply not at the races from the get go. When you think of Johnny Cooper, James McCarthy, Cian O'Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, and Diarmuid Connolly to name but five missing from their ranks, it really is a frightening prospect for any county taking them on.
Better for this to happen now than later
There was a sarcastic joke doing the rounds years ago that the second best team in Ireland was in fact the Dublin B team, to a few now it is not a joke any more but a reality. Although I do not agree, a second string Dublin would beat a lot of full strength county teams. Reading reports and listening to analysis on the game would suggest that this was the worst performance by this current crop of Mayo players by a long way and Mayo will simply not recover from it. I would not totally panic, everyone/team is entitled to an off day (except Dublin ). I would rather it happen now than in August or September. Remember Galway in the championship last year? Mayo were supposedly finished after that game and thereafter went agonisingly close to winning the holy grail.
Will it be twelfth time lucky?
In 2015 Dublin gave us a proper hiding in the league in Castlebar, cantering home by 2-18 to 0-10, yet in August of that year we drew with them in the All-Ireland semifinal, a game we should have won so this gives me a glimmer of hope. The major worry for me however is what I will call Dublin Syndrome. Mayo have not beaten the Dubs since 2012 in league or championship, and they most definitely have our card marked for any future meetings. In the 11 encounters since 2012 it stands at three draws and eight wins for the Dubs, which is a worry, despite getting so close we just cannot nick a win off them. We were so close to them last year and despite last Saturday's hammering I feel we will not be far away again should we come up against them later in the season.
Time to pull the blanket down
It is obvious the only way to beat them is a mass blanket defence to frustrate them and play a counterattacking game. If you choose to go toe to toe with them more often than not you will get burned. The writing was on the wall from the very tart as Michael Darragh MacAuley fetched the throw in unopposed. It is very unusual to leave a game that Mayo have played in where every outfield player played second fiddle to their direct opponent, as was the case last Saturday. Dublin’s dominance was dictated by a master class display by their mid-fielders MacAuley and Brian Fenton who is in a rich vein of form and most definitely the best in the business at this current moment. Mayo seemed to fear him rather than get stuck into him.
Shooting stats do not make pretty reading
The statistics do not look good when put on paper. Only two scores in the first half, both of them from placed balls and none from play, and only seven scores in total at the end with no forward bothering the umpires from play for the full 70 minutes. They are quite damning if overanalysed. Dublin elected to press high up the field on Mayo’s kick out meaning they were leaving Mayo forwards unmarked in pursuit of guaranteeing possession from the Mayo restart. It is very risky but it worked a treat as they completely dominated the middle third. The odd time possession was won by a Mayo player the pressure on him was relentless, meaning the ball was usually turned over by a stray kick pass. Despite Dublin pouring men forward they still seemed to have a body in place to intercept any long delivery. It is a system that is fine tuned and requires huge intensity and discipline.
Clarke top of the stoppers
David Clarke continues to be our single most important player and despite a kick out that ended up in the Dublin goal, he was in sensational form with his shot stopping again. I would have to give serious credit however to Dublin’s Niall Scully for winning that kick out to set up the goal rather than overcriticise Clarke. He made a brilliant save from MacAuley, and it was how Clarke prevented Paddy Andrews from finding the net that had the whole country raving. Three times in rapid succession Andrews thought he had a tap in only for Clarke to miraculously keep him out. The first save from a penalty was impressive, but how he got up and back across the goal again for the second save will not be beaten for save of the year. Andrews was in shock and could not believe he had not scored by the time the third chance fell to him, which Clarke blocked with his knee. It was a game to forget overall and should focus minds in the Mayo camp as there is a lot of hard work to be done. It is deja vu all over again. The whole country has us written off.