It’s always great to welcome a guest new contributor to the site and so I’m delighted to give the floor to Mike Kelly who argues that we need to do three things tomorrow in order to beat the Dubs and qualify for the NFL final.
Anyone who has followed this year’s National League will know that the current Dublin side have been on a rampage in their first season under new manager Jim Gavin. Having not won the National League for twenty years, this Dublin side is on a mission to right what they perceive to be a serious wrong. It should be noted that for a side like Dublin, twenty years without winning the GAA’s second major football competition can be seen as a major reason for their almost consistent failure in the senior championship, 1995 and 2011 aside.
People will also have noticed that the Mayo team of 2013 has certainly not set the footballing world alight with their results so far. However, it is a sign of the strength Mayo have that they were only beaten by a collective eight points in their four defeats and have qualified for the semi-finals without Andy Moran, Alan Dillon, and until the Kildare match, double Young Player of the Year Cillian O’Connor. They have also already faced Dublin in Croke Park this season and a virtuoso display by Bernard Brogan saw the 14 man boys in blue home by four points.
On that night Dublin looked by far the fitter and hungrier team and Mayo made far too many mistakes for a team of their undoubted quality. While the final score showed Dublin victors by only four points it could have been much more, and that included a red card for Dublin centre-back Ger Brennan after 45 minutes.
Mayo will have learned from their performance that night and also from Dublin’s and will be wiser to the challenge facing them this Sunday. There are three things that Mayo must do this Sunday if they are to reach their second successive National League final and their third national final in 12 months.
Contain Bernard Brogan
I realise this is the obvious approach and many teams have already tried and failed, not just during this league campaign. But Mayo have also tried and succeeded in the past at keeping Dublin’s main attacking force quiet. Take last summer’s All-Ireland semi-final for example. Sure, Brogan scored a hefty number of Dublin’s points that day but Ger Cafferkey and friends kept Brogan so quiet from play that aside from his goal chance in the last 10 minutes he was a peripheral figure who relied on frees to keep his personal tally ticking over.
If Cafferkey has learned anything from the league game earlier this season it will be to stay tight on the Oliver Plunkett’s man. Brogan scored 1-10 in that game, including an amazing sideline kick. Unlike last year’s championship match when Cafferkey kept Brogan anonymous apart from frees, this time Brogan was unstoppable in open play, even if over half his scores came from dead balls.
The Dubs are far from a one man team, as they have shown in the latter stages of the league when Brogan has been largely kept in reserve and players like Andrews and McManamon have come to the fore. But their focal point is and will be Brogan. When he is on form, Dublin are on form. Keep him quiet and you can rattle the Dublin system for long enough to gain a stranglehold on the game.
Win the Midfield Battle
It is clear looking back at Mayo’s performances during the 2013 league, and even back as far as the beginning of the 2012 league, that when they win the midfield battle they generally win the match. The only example I can think of is last year’s All-Ireland final. Aside from the opening 15 minutes I feel that the midfield duo of Moran and O’Shea shaded their battle but the damage had already been done.
Obviously this Sunday Moran is expected to be missing once again through injury and Aiden O’Shea is expected to line out at the top of the ’40 as James Horan continues that pointless experiment, so the pressure will fall on Seamus O’Shea and probably Jason Gibbons.
Neither one of these top-class players has been able to nail down a starting berth over the past few seasons, granted not many midfielders in the country would be able to break up the Moran-A O’Shea axis, but this Sunday offers both players a good platform to show Horan and their supporters that they should be under serious consideration come Connaught Championship time.
Dublin’s midfield has not necessarily been one of their stronger areas so far this season, with most sides generally getting the better or at least evening out with them. However, among their half-backs and half-forwards they possess some very good players when it comes to cleaning up the breaking ball. Players such as Kevin McManamon, Ger Brennan and Philly McMahon will punish the Mayo midfield are if they are given the chance. This is where players like Kevin McLoughlin and Lee Keegan will come into play for the westerners.
Take their chances
Probably the most obvious thing that Mayo needs to get right this Sunday is to stop hitting so many wides. While there are no official stats of how many wides and dropped shots each team has hit in the seven games so far, I would hazard a guess that Mayo would be well ahead at the top of that table.
Had Mayo taken their chances when presented in the round robin section of the league they would probably have finished with a 100% record and a very healthy points difference. Averaging almost 10 wides a game and having hit 14 in their home defeat to Kildare, the Green and Red have been the epitome of wastefulness at times this season.
With players of the calibre of Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor, Mickey Conroy and Aiden O’Shea plying their trade up front, Mayo should be more than capable of taking their chances in Croke Park.
If James Horan’s charges can achieve these three objectives on Sunday then they are in with a great chance of reaching this year’s National League final. Dublin have been the standout side so far in 2013 but if there is one side that has held a consistent hoodoo over the Metropolitans it is the men from the west. Since the 2006 All-Ireland semi final Mayo have defeated Dublin more often than not and have defeated Dublin in the last two knockout games they have played.
Mayo may be viewed as a side with a fear of Croke Park and of important matches, but under James Horan they have begun to shed that tag. Victories over Kerry, Cork, Down and Dublin at HQ in the last two years have shown that this current side have a steel about them which they will need on Sunday. Obviously they will need big performances from their main stars but as a collective Mayo have a great chance of reaching their third league final in four seasons and of possibly annexing only their second senior national title since 1970.