At the outset of every championship campaign, every inter-county team has some sort of aspirations. Most teams will seek to have a “good run” while others will set their hearts on winning a Provincial title while a few will dream of an All-Ireland title. Those few are lured into believing that a title is within their grasp. Mayo now will dream. I’m afraid that’s all it will be, a dream. On the evidence of Dublin’s latest display against Tyrone, Mayo will have to content themselves with second best.
Undoubtedly, the men from the west have great experience, strength, know-how and talent. Dublin also have a wealth of talent and experience. They differ from the rest because of their machine-like ability to wear the opposition down.
They can play against blanket defences and expose non-blanket defences. Mayo’s performances of late have energised the championship. On what is one of the least entertaining championship seasons to date, Mayo have been terrific. Their drawn game against Kerry was the highlight of the year. We watched them easily beat Kerry in the replay. I agree that Kerry were nowhere near their best but, we cannot take anything away from Mayo. I fear for them though, against the Dubs.
Tyrone travelled to Croke Park in great numbers last Sunday not in hope but with great expectations. I was surprised by their tactics. I believed that if they were to cause an upset they would push Dublin high up the field and not concede kick-outs. Instead, the Tyrone players stood off their opponents, retreated and recoiled into their defensive system.
In all truth, Dublin toyed with Tyrone. They dictated the play from the throw-in. Conceding a goal in the first five minutes didn’t help Tyrone’s cause. Still, they persisted with a lack of fluidity, poor passing but most of all, a lack of any sort of intensity. Watching this game, I thought about Donegal and where this left us in the scheme of things. Tyrone absolutely destroyed us in the Ulster semi-final.
If Tyrone’s performance is the best that Ulster can provide, then we all have a lot of ground to make up on Dublin. Are Dublin that good? Well yes, I believe so.
Last week, I did convey my feelings in respect of Tyrone’s firepower up front. For long periods during the game, Tyrone had either nobody in the Dublin half or just one man. This system worked against inferior opposition and I’m afraid I have to include Donegal here. Dublin are a different proposition who have perfected a robot-like system where they can switch between a pedestrian form of play to a ruthless and incisive attack at great speed and intensity. Indeed, they didn’t show their hand for the final since they lined out with a handful of regular starters. Their strength in depth is far superior than any other team in the country.
Their manager Jim Gavin does not make changes because a player is performing poorly. Players are substituted to keep the intensity levels high. Croke Park too, suits their style of play. The expansive pitch allows them to open defences. They switch the play from one side of the field to the other, waiting for that opportune time when a defender will lapse. Then they exploit the game. I do love watching them play but unfortunately, we haven’t a team this year who are capable of matching their power game and tactical awareness.
At least Mayo will have loads of energy and plenty of power. I doubt though if they have the potential to outscore Dublin. Unlike Tyrone, they will push up on the Dublin defence and try to prevent them from initiating meaningful attacks.
Dublin have learned a lot in recent years. I watched as Tyrone tried to come out of defence last Sunday. Dublin stopped them by simply fouling them. This allowed Dublin to retreat and stopped Tyrone from building up any momentum. They consistently broke up Tyrone’s play. Dublin now have reinvented the template on which other teams must use if they are to match and even beat them. I also accept that Dublin operate at a different level in terms of financial and training resources. Croke Park is on their doorstep. This will not change and the rest of us have to accept that facts as they are.
Donegal made a breakthrough in 2012 and should have won again in 2014. So, we cannot be that far away. Our team is in transition and we have to be patient. Our young players need experience to play at senior level. I’m not of the opinion that we are too young. The modern game has changed to the point that it suits young athletes. I hope that our new manager will use the National League to give our young players the experience needed to play at senior level. If we take a couple of hits, it’s not the end of the world. Our long-term goal is to win an Ulster title which is not out of our reach considering the average quality of Ulster teams. The ultimate demise of Tyrone will give all Ulster teams hope for next year’s championship.
Keep the faith!