As the big day approaches it gets ever more difficult to be in any way objective about the All-Ireland semi-final and so I’m delighted to welcome Emmet Ryan of Action81.com back into the guest slot to provide a tactical preview of Sunday’s contest.
Sunday’s two combatants enter in wildly differing veins of form, yet the bookmakers and the bulk of the pundits favour the side stuck in a slump since spring.
Mayo’s league campaign began with some mixed performances but their victory over Dublin in March marked the beginning of a significant upturn in fortunes. James Horan’s man-isolation defensive system was devastating that day. By focussing on the ball-carrier, crowding him out with two or three defenders, Mayo made it near impossible for Dublin to distribute the ball in the final third. Mayo expanded on this approach in the League Semi-Final against Kerry, winning the fight in the middle third despite Kerry’s success at direct ball-winning.
The Championship campaign began particularly late for Mayo, making the extended spring all the more important. In attack they struggled against Sligo for much of the Connacht Final but defensively they remained stout throughout. Once again the focus on the man in possession proved effective and the Yeats county only managed 15 shots all day. The introduction of Aidan O’Shea proved game changing in the second half as he scored once and created two other points for Mayo. O’Shea’s influence in the Quarter-Final against Down added to Mayo’s variety in attack. Despite the absence of Conor Mortimer and Andy Moran, Horan’s charges remain an outfit that can hurt teams in multiple was. Moran’s injury will likely cost him an All-Star but it should not cost Mayo on Sunday. Dublin’s defence tends to fare better against skilful and fast 14s like Moran than against more awkward big men. The one issue to worry about Mayo’s attack is that for all their options, they have looked excessively goal hungry. Against Down and Leitrim that was fine as they rattled the net repeatedly but more disciplined defences won’t break down so easily. Mayo have the players to open up opponents from distance and create room inside, there’s no need to overly pursue majors.
That’s particularly true when up against a side as inconsistent as Pat Gilroy’s charges. When Bernard Brogan’s influence is curbed, as it was by Wexford and Laois, Dublin struggle to convert half their chances. The attack has lacked any kind of dynamism since the spring and opposing defences have capitalised by staying organised. Mayo’s backs will be a noticeable step up from what Dublin have faced so far this summer.
Execution, or rather the lack of it, is at the core of the problem. The efficient machine that drove Dublin to an All-Ireland with a varied attack simply isn’t in place in 2012. The psychological hangover of lifting Sam, and all that follows, will surely have played a role and the problems on the field were evident through an up and down League campaign. The issues at the back for Dublin weren’t as obvious until the summer.
Inconsistency has been a major worry. In the second half of their games with Wexford and Laois the Dublin backs played like the swarm that strode forward in leaps and bounds in 2010 and 2011. When you play an organised defensive system, you can’t get away with sloppy play. That’s been an issue for Dublin all summer as assignments have been missed, passes misdirected, and basic ball-handling has been below par. This malaise will not be cured by simply flicking a switch on Sunday.
Dublin’s playing talent is unquestioned and their tactics remain sound. The issue is fundamentally around putting that plan into action. Dublin have not been playing at a high enough standard to be in serious contention to retain their crown. Mayo may still be a work in progress but the advancements they have made give them a marked advantage over this Dublin team. Mayo to win by three or four points.
Check out my tactical preview of the game at Action81.com – here. There will also be a Tactics not Passion book in late autumn which no doubt I’ll be asking Willie Joe to plug wildly.