A few League final thoughts

League final full time

I was in Croke Park earlier on today, mainly because the small lad was keen to go (in his world, going to matches equals going to see his team win) and seeing as Mayo Mick (thanks again, Mick) had given me freebie tickets for today’s Division One and Two finals, it would have been poor form not to have used them. And, sure, the day was nice and sunny too.

As others have already said, Dublin were devastating today. That early Derry goal might have upset other teams but Dublin responded rapidly with a furious flurry of points and such was their dominance for the remainder of the opening quarter that the result was almost beyond doubt even then.

By half-time, it was all over bar the shouting in the 38,000 crowd but what was most impressive about the Dubs was the single-minded way in which they continued to apply the lash in the second half, despite the fact that their second NFL title on the trot was well in the bag by then. And by God did they continue to flail the poor Oakleafers with venom, running up a massive 3-19 scoreline before Cormac Reilly mercifully blew for time just seven seconds after the seventy minutes were up.

All manner of thoughts were running through my head as this rout was in progress. Such as – how the hell did we lose to Derry when they were down to fourteen men? Would we have suffered the same kind of kicking if it were us up against the Dubs? Those kind of thoughts.

At the end of the day, though, none of this really matters. We didn’t manage to beat Derry and hence didn’t get to tangle with the Dubs today. And so there’s little point in our wondering how we might have done today or indeed how we might get on against them in the All-Ireland final.

The simple fact is that any notions of getting to the All-Ireland final are rather distant at this point in time. In fact, the only match we should be focusing on now is the one we’re down to play this day week over in Gaelic Park. On the assumption that this is one we should win with a bit to spare, we can, I guess, also be starting to think at this stage about the Rossies on June 8th, though they too have a hurdle – in the form of Leitrim – to get over first.

We may eventually work our way back to an All-Ireland final this year. And if we do, we may have to lock horns once again with Dublin in a contest where they’d surely be the hottest of favourites. But we’re far from there yet and, despite their scintillating performance today, neither are the Super Dubs. It’s still only the end of April so any conclusions about who will dominate this year when it really matters need to be tempered with this realisation.

Finally, my own day – which had begun with a truly glorious and rather long cycle out into north County Dublin and then on into the Meath countryside and back – didn’t turn out to be a hectic one on the football front, as I got pipped at the post – by a single, rotten, lousy point – in the Allianz prediction league. I went into the final weekend thirty points clear and having played it safe and cast my vote for all four favourites in the four Divisional finals I knew it’d take two of those matches going against the head to beat me.

Cavan yesterday and their neighbours Monaghan provided those upsets, though, and this enabled Kevin McHugh – who’d gone for both Roscommon and Monaghan – to best me at the death and scoop the main prize by the narrowest of narrow margins. The pain of defeat is eased somewhat by the fact that Kevin also hails from Mayo and that Garrymore GAA club will win the nominated club prize.  Well done to him on a great win, for club and county.

32 thoughts on “A few League final thoughts

  1. The Dubs will take some stopping this year

    Out go Mannion and Kilkenny, in come O’Gara and Mcmenamin who have been phenomenal. They’ll be even stronger in 2014 than 2013

    The real worrying thing is once they really start training hard now for championship, they’ll probably improve even more again

    With such a pick and resources available to them, not to mention every match at home it was only a matter of time before they’d start fully dominating. 3/3 for Gavin in terms of trophies won

  2. Master stroke by JH to ensure that we did not win the sf versus Derry, I reckon if Dublin had not made the playoff’s, then we would have the where with all to beat Derry, and chance to win a national title. With Dublin making it through, it would be too big a risk to play the dubs again. It is hard enough to beat the dubs once!

    The Rossies win on Saturday was quite impressive, they will be ready to give us a real rattle in the Hyde (assuming we both win our qf’s). But that is what we need. September is a long time away, so let’s focus on winning Connacht, and sorting out some of the issues left hanging from the league.

  3. As Willie Joe said it’s a long time till Sept and many a potential trip wire along the way till then. Still over the past three years we have beaten the reigning champions along they way and the only place we can meet them this year [barring both of us going into the qualifiers] is in the final so who knows. The Dubs biggest problem in the meantime may turn out to be complacency. It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way, as the song went.

  4. The Dubs should win the All Ireland at a canter if they continue in the vein of form throughout the summer. The only surprising thing is that they haven’t been this dominant in the past. The extent of their financial investment in development is paying fruition. They could dominate for years. I think in an amateur game, one team should not be able to sign a sponsorship deal of the size of the Dublin AIG deal. Their needs to be a democratisation of funding or our games will suffer as a result. I don’t think anyone wants to see football going the way of hurling in the noughties. If Dublin kick on again we will be having the debate about splitting the capital up into 2 or 3 teams. These are worrying times indeed.

  5. I have to to say, first off, that I’m generally an optimist when it comes to mayo football. Some here may even term me a happy clapper. Watching the dubs today however, I just felt fear to be honest. They are on a different planet to everyone else at the moment. I’m so glad Derry beat us coz we would have been anihillated if we played them today. Let’s get real here, it’s not an exaggeration to say derry could have lost by thirty points today. It was men against boys. What’s worrying is we couldn’t beat 14 man Derry. I don’t buy this idea that Horan deliberately lost against Derry. A load of nonsense in my opinion. Every team tries to win every game.

    For the first time, Dublin are starting to resemble Kilkenny hurlers 2006-2012. That’s scary for everyone else. The only hope for mayo and everyone else is that they will get complacent, have an off day, lose their edge, lose the hunger, whatever. If they remain at the level they were at yesterday they will beat everyone by ten points plus. As for ourselves, we have our work cut out to remain at the head of the chasing pack, but I would be fearful of our chances right now v Dublin. That said though, nothing is certain in sport. Maybe we can get a lucky break or two and get over the line somehow. I’m more hopeful than expectant this year though.

  6. in my opinion all the connacht teams including NY and London should be banding together and getting a joint sponsorship deal, this worked brilliantly for Celtic and Rangers down through the years, elverys can remain a significant partner but without proper funding Dublin will leave us all behind. now is the time to get this sorted with mayo reaching finals and with the rossies coming up to div 2.

    a multinational like vodafone or 02 woudl surely be interested in this and have much more funding available

  7. Derry are a poor outfit as they proved yesterday. Puts our performance against them in perspective. We have a mountain to climb so lets start in NY

  8. There is no doubt that Dublin looked very impressive yesterday and it is easy to look at that game and say, “fuck it, sure there is no point in anyone thinking they can beat this side, they have too many good players and too many options to pick from” Well, I’m not one of those. I firmly believe we have shown the way to counteract the Dublin game plan and the fact that we only drew with them in our league game should not hide the fact.
    The facts, as I see them, are this. Derry, for all their progress are a newly promoted Div 2 team. They were always going to struggle yesterday against Dublin and the gap between a newly promoted side and the reigning league and All Ireland champions was glaringly obvious. Dublin have players playing for their places and each and every one of them know that if you are not doing your stuff on the pitch there is a buck waiting on the bench to take your place. They are being kept on their toes by competition for places. That’s as it should be and one can say that our own set-up could do with a heavy dose of that tonic when you consider the performance of Adam Gallagher in the 2 difficult away games and then he doesn’t feature for the last 5 games!! Or the progress and development of Darren Coen being halted by management continuing to select tried and failed options in his position whilst ignoring the fact that when Coen playes he scores. Simple.
    However, Dublin can only play 15 at any one time, the same as us. And whilst their squad is light years ahead of everyone else, I don’t believe that their starting 15 are as far ahead as everyone assumes them to be. Think back to our league draw with Dublin. Everyone asked “how can you mark Cluxtons kick-outs? how can you keep running with their midfielders and half backs on his kick-outs?” The answer was not to mark the players, but mark the space that the Dublin players wanted to run into. The result was the total collapse of the Dublin possession game from Cluxtons kick-outs. He couldn’t kick short because Kevin Mc and the rest of the forwards had pushed up to mark the Dublin backs. He couldn’t kick wide to runners as Higgins, who had positioned himself as a 3rd midfielder, along with our half backs had fanned out across the full width of the pitch marking space, not players. He had no option but to hammer it long down the middle, the very last thing he wants to do, where Gibbons and O’Shea cleaned up. The frustration led to him lashing out at Kevin Mc and getting the line. The fact that our forwards kicked a fair few wides and the ball into Freeman was short should not hide the fact that I believe we have a plan for the Dubs, and, whether ye like it or not it involves Higgins as a half forward for that very reason.
    Looking back to our defeat to Derry, it was apparent to me that we were overcooked and the legs looked heavy. Derrys 1st serious test is against Donegal 14 days before our test in The Hyde. Both sides were at different stages of training and that undoubtedly in my opinion had a bearing on the outcome.
    I also believe, as Mikey said above, that management looked at the 4 teams in the semi-final draw and decided that the best thing for us now in the bigger scheme of things, is not to suffer another defeat to Dublin in Croker. I’m not saying that we “threw” the game against Derry but I believe that JH prioritized championship training over a league final appearance. If we beat Derry, good and well, but the focus was on being right for June 8th where we will get nothing handy. If Dublin did not make the semi-finals then maybe the decision might have been taken to “go for” the league title but with Dublin there it was almost certain that we would have had to beat them in a final to win the title. I think management decided to not show their hand and wait for, hopefully, later in the year.

  9. Well that went pretty much as I thought it would but I didn’t think it would be as much as that. Dublin are now red hot favourites for Sam but it is April as you say and no team will be lying down for them come championship.

  10. Ya – hard to believe that stuff that Horan deliberately threw that semi-final match against Derry. I thought his substitutions were poor especially with the game still in the balance. However we still could have won it! God forbid but if that’s the attitude what would he have done if they actually pulled it off?

  11. Agree Peeblesmeller on Mayo preferring to avoid another game with Dublin at this stage. If Mayo beat Derry and beat Dublin it would put Mayo in the spotlight and give the dubs something to focus on. Yesterday’s result was no harm at all. Also the easier the Dubs have it through Leinster the better. The more times they’re told they’re unbeatable the better. There are very few teams that really feel they can beat this Dublin team but Mayo is most definitely one of them. Mayo just need to keep their noses clean, and make sure the next time they see the dubs they finish the job. I’ve no doubt they will.

  12. Whilst I expect Mayo to be competitive this year I feel it will take an exceptional team and or luck to get Dublin beaten this year. This would lead to James Horan’s period in charge coming to an end. I feel the guy has given all he can to the cause. In a new set-up I feel that Mayo would need to concentrate on a youth policy. I feel that there is enough young players coming through the system. Watching our own club compete at a high level in minor I am struck by how well prepared the teams we play are. Especially those from the larger clubs. Big blocks of men with a hard core and very good skills. I feel that there is a lot of effort put in at club and county level to get our underage teams prepared. Once could say look at the result at U21 against Roscommon – two points – 1) not very year will throw up talent, there will also be poor squads presented every now and them and 2) Roscommon are way up there and as a great GAA county they have put in huge efforts to get there football up with the best. Sometimes you have to respect the quality of the opposition. One thing that does need to be looked at with our underage teams including all club teams is the sacrifice of athleticism whilst developing hardness and muscle. I feel that there should be more running done. I see teams drifting out of games as games go on or on warm days. I think Dublin have a specific emphasis on being able to run, also Donegal. I think other teams need to copy.

  13. Seriously Pebbles if we are throwing league semis because we are afraid to play the Dubs, we have lost before we even start in the championship.

    Such an attitude is so defeatist and lacking confidence that you could not expect any Mayo team to throw off the shackles in an All Ireland Final and beat the Dubs. Why would we not approach an All ireland final against them with the same fear.

    Reality is that James targetted winning the league, and we fell apart in the last 15 minutes against an average 14 men. That is reason enough to worry, before we even start thinking about Dublin.

    Win in the Hyde and we will have a good day’s work done. Then we can start thinking of Galway, and game by game after that…..

  14. Read my comment again Cynical Cynthia.
    “I’m not saying that we “threw” the game against Derry but I believe that JH prioritized championship training over a league final appearance”
    Where in that statement does it say that we are afraid of the Dubs?

    “I firmly believe we have shown the way to counteract the Dublin game plan and the fact that we only drew with them in our league game should not hide the fact”
    Where in that statement can you find, as you put it a “defeatist and lacking confidence” attitude.

    “I think management decided to not show their hand and wait for, hopefully, later in the year”
    This is the very reason that we will “NOT approach an All ireland final against them with the same fear”

    As I said, read my comment again.

  15. Hi Pebbles – ” (“I’m not saying that we “threw” the game against Derry but I believe that JH prioritized championship training over a league final appearance)”

    Can you explain upon what logic you are basing that assumption?

    From what I remember our semi final was first so the Management team had no idea for certain who would win between Cork and Dublin. Additionally the argument could easily be made that the correct substitutions were made and management made these decisions becasue they thought we would win the game.

    After all Enda Varley is a seasoned campaigner from corner forward. And McLoughlin who was playing the corner hadn’t scored all day.
    SOS and AOS are brothers and were our successful midfield partnership in all of last years championship.
    Tom Parsons allright was a strange one (simply becasue of his lack of football over the past number of years). But he is an athletic guy who I presume was added to inject pace and strength into the middle.

  16. in all honesty, we had planned on winning the league, so I dont think our management team decided in the last quarter of the league semi final to just say, “ah., this isnt that important after all”.
    I’d like to think our management team and the players in general could turn it “on” when they really need to. But the reality is different. We just took our foot off the gas, again made some bewildering substitutions and ended up losing the match.
    With regard to facing the dubs, why should we ever be anxious about facing them?….we are one of the few teams that can stay with them and have a real chance to beat them. I was sorry to see Derry were over awed by the occasion and thus facilitated an easy league title for Dublin. We wouldnt have been as accomodating I think.

  17. Hi JPM,
    I think it is fairly self explanatory but I will clarify what I meant to say. I don’t believe for one minute that either management or the players went out to “not win” the game. I don’t believe that they did not try their best to win the game with substitutions though they could have done better there in my opinion. However, I do believe that they did not prepare their best to win the game and I will explain why.
    1. My belief is that our priority number one is All Ireland success. If we could pick one competition to win, league or championship, it would be the championship. That is our aim and our target.
    2. More than likely, we will have to beat Dublin in the final to achieve our aim.
    3. Therefore, our physical preparation and our strength & conditioning programs must be designed to have us at our absolute peak on September 21st. Not a week before, or after, but bang on that day. We will also have to be at approx. 80% to 85% of our optimum for June 8th when we go to The Hyde for what will be a real stern test, make no mistake.
    4. Taking all this into consideration, management had a decision to make. Do we continue with our training program as per the plan irrespective of the league semi-final, i.e. 80% to 85% of optimum for June 8th, or do we alter it to help us win the league semi, irrespective of the consequences later in the year?
    It might not seem like much of a decision but it’s implications could have an effect for later in the year and let me explain why.
    Intercounty sides returned to collective training in January. Mayo were 2 weeks behing them as a result of their well earned trip to Dubai. Bear in mind that this will be the third season in a row for this squad of players to be subjected to very high levels of physical training, there is no doubt that even the Dubs took a bit of a break in 2012. The first 3 months of training generally focuses on strength, aerobic training and flexibity. The strength and aerobic training is particularly draining as it involves pounding that hard yards but it is this base level of endurance fitness that will provide the foundation for fitness throughout the Summer. For those that argue they are fit enough, generally you lose up to 40% of your “fitness” through the off season. This is in effect “pre-season” training. I think it is reasonable to expect that the heavy-legged performance in the final 15 mins against Derry could be explained by this type of training. Even Higgins looked exhausted coming off the pitch.
    Now, if management wanted to put themselves in a stronger postion to win the semi-final they could have brought forward speed, skills and power training that is normally intensively done from the end of May right through to September, and, at the same time easing off on the strength, aerobic and flexibilty stuff. The problem with that is you may not have enough of a core base level of what is called “endurance fitness” done to keep you right in the mix until September 21st.
    in effect, we were 2 weeks behind Derry whose first big test is 2 weeks before ours, so, there is a 4 week difference in physical preparation between the 2 sides. Put it this way, if the 2 sides were to meet in a quarter-final or semi-final later on in the year I am sure there would be a noticeable improvement in Mayos performance levels.

  18. Well reasonsed points there Pebbles.

    But surely Derry are similarily holding back thinking of Donegal??

    Our focus needs to be on the Rossies. At least we are forewarned!

  19. I thought Derry were very poor yesterday, they looked shell shocked to me. The way they stood off the Dublin lads was criminal. Dublin are not the world beaters everyone is saying. Last year Donegal where blown up the same way, Dublin the year before, Cork the year before that were supposed to win 3 in a row so powerful were they.
    It is not that easy to win 2 in a row. Yes Dublin would be my favourites to win this year, but they will have have hicups along the way.
    What’s more worrying for me is how the other teams have failed to beat them in the league when they were there for the taking,like Tyrone and Mayo.

    As regards Mayo’s chances I believe we need 2 or three new faces in the forwards as well as Sweeney, Mc Loughlin, Cillian, and Freeman to increase the pace in the team. I think Doherty, Feeney, Andy and Dillon are best used as inpact subs.
    I don’t know who these new faces will be, as we say so little of Coen X2, Gallagher X2 etc during the league.

  20. Prediction: Dublin won’t win the AIF.

    Not saying who will; not saying we will. Statistics show, apart from Kerry in 06&07 (Mayo & Cork!!), no team has done it since Cork in 89/90 and they didn’t have QFs.

    Various teams have been awesome and devastating at various stages but still haven’t done 2 in a row. If there was a team it might have been Donegal, given their defensive set up, but look what we (and Monaghan to a lesser extent) did to them.

  21. PS – excellent post Pebbles.

    Very interesting food for thought. All seems plausible, but there is a risk and it is this. Connaught teams will have improved a lot from last year. In a (potential) CF Galway could be formidable, and that’s not discounting Ros. QFs have been a breeze but they are a graveyard for teams not at the cutting edge.

    One just hopes for a graph of steady improvement that gives players the confidence that they can do things even if not 100% at the peak. Confidence too is a huge thing – witness Dublin at the moment; O’Gara to my mind is not a great player, but boy is he effective at the moment.

  22. I don’t know where all the excitement about Coen is coming from. I’ve seen him in action a few times and he has not set the world alight, or even kindled it. His scoring ratio is not great, while I don’t have statistics I would say well under 50%. He is well worth a place on the panel and with hard work he will merit a starting place but not just yet.
    For James Horan to have prioritised NFL success would in my opinion have been madness with a team now in its fourth year on the road. Our aim needs to be fixed on Sept and while there are dangers along the road [primarily Rosc in June] if we cannot meet them without being at our absolute peak we have no have no business dreaming of Sept. If we get to Sept with everybody fit and ready we have every chance of winning the big prize.

  23. Pebblesmeller
    I don’t know the inside story any more than anyone else. But I couldn’t help but think that Mayo were not themselves at all against Derry. They looked dead, flat and lacking their usual ‘spark’. We are a far better team than Derry. Of that there is no doubt in my mind. After the game JH reckoned that their training wasn’t the explanation for the poor performance but then again he was hardly likely to come clean on that score.
    I am inclined to agree with your assessment and that he mightn’t have been hugely bothered about a defeat and kept his focus on Championship training. If that is the case I completely agree with JH. His most challenging task is probably keeping this team fresh. They have been on the road quite a while and if you think of the NY trip then fatigue is an issue.
    Dublin were very impressive yesterday but we are still about the only team they will worry about and with good reason. Keeping below the radar for a while might be no harm at all.
    Still hopeful!

  24. Jesus Christ, who do we think we are or is someone taking the piss. Are some posters suggesting that the management seriously decided to lose the semi final because Dublin were in the other and were odds on to win the final .

    Boiled down, losing to 14 man Derry is now deemed a master stroke . I give up.

  25. Don’t give up John!

    I know that it sounds crazy that the way to win is to be afraid to lose. Sometimes it’s best to pick the battles that you know that you can win. That’s what the long grass is there for and there’s alot of that stuff around Mayo. As Father Ted might have said, “It woulldn’t be a mad thing altogether now Dougal, if Mayo came bursting on through that grassy stuff.”
    Or Shakespeare the bard, “I will offend to make offense a skill, redeeming time when men think least I will.”

  26. John
    I don’t think anyone is suggesting the like merely that he mightn’t have been overly bothered about winning the league despite what he might have said at the start – not that he deliberately sabotaged our chances. I think JH and this team have their sights on one trophy and only one – for better or worse.

  27. Just thinking out loud here….

    Dublin have been on the road a few years as have Mayo. Both have been in All Ire finals over the last few years. Dublin won two Mayo lost two. Both teams had to come back the following season and try again, as winner or loser. A lot is said of the difficulty of a team to back up again after winning an All Ire as happened to Dublin. We backed up after a loss and got to final again Dublin didn’t. Now Dubs look strong to back up their victory again this year. We have lost two on the trot but still seem to have the fight to try and get back there again.

    My point (if ya can find it!). It is often said it’s very hard to win two in a row. Mayo have been to two finals in a row but lost. Whose job is harder now? Mayo to get back to a final or Dublin to get back and retain a title? (something that doesn’t happened very often for any team)

  28. I think people are getting too worked up over the derry loss. We often have trouble with 14 men. In the league last year, we were on top of dublin until brennan was sent off and the exact same thing happened. Now fair enough, that is a concern, but it isnt anything to do with a drop off from this year to last. It is down to our style of play, and what teams do when they go a man down. We commit men forward en mass, but teams go into their shell when a man down and get back behind the ball, we end up crowding ourselves out and they break up the pitch. 3 times in 2 years this has happened, and this is exactly what tyrone tried to replicate in the AI semi last year, which explains our laboured performance that day also. We just need to be cuter. When teams go into defensive mode, leave 6 players in our own half and just play probing football. Pick gaps, win fouls and get a few points. If mayo start pulling away from them they will panic and lose their shape. At the minute, we are the ones panicking and getting caught. It is a concern, but something that we can definately fix.

  29. Monaghan showed against Donegal how to play against 14 men. They were strong enough to keep possession of the football and pick out a pass. When they were overcrowded Donegal descended with 4/5 men with punches and hard physical stuff. All of this was also allowed primarily becasue the ref always favours the team with the 14 men.

    This happened for most of the first half but Monaghan just took it on the chin, stuck to their game-plan and kept their heads. Also their points from distance were phenomenal. They were able to work the ball to the right man in the correct position for his attempt. Pity we don’t have that ability or don’t seem to try it as an alternative to the ultimate running game we are persisting with all of the time.

  30. @Pete: I know where you are coming from! I took my time reading your post though 🙂

  31. Going by population if you split Dublin into four teams, they would all still be in the top 5 teams in the country. Infact Dublin North or Dublin South could hold the top spot over Cork depending on the border. (Antrim & Down would be in the mix too but they wouldn’t necessarily have the playing population.)

  32. Mister Mayor, I agree fully with all points in your last paragraph above.

    Sure Dublin are formidable, but Derry weren’t at the races at all. They lost the bottle trying to play out of defence and the Dub forwards agressively marking them had a field day when they sensed the Derry nerve was gone……A most unusual sight, for a good while, all six forwards in blue getting the measure of their opposite markers in a reverse role.

    Dublin are a pacey and polished outfit, but Derry let them away with it, and could have done better.

    I can not see our Mayo lads capitulating like that against Dublin, ever.

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