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How Mayo Won By Turning Dublin's Greatest Weapon Against Them

How Mayo Won By Turning Dublin's Greatest Weapon Against Them

Before the Connacht final, as much was discovered about Mayo after games as was during them. A phoney war Divison 2 league campaign was followed by two Connacht Championship matches that failed to muster any challenge.

There were sprinklings of developing prospects and attacking fluency but the team was never sufficiently tested. In the aftermath of a 24-point victory over Leitrim, James Horan sent a signal.

That 70-minute contest was not satisfactory. To reach the summit Mayo would need to delve into deeper reserves. Did they have that in the tank? They needed to find out.

Several players, including starters, lined up after the game and started running. 80m sprints, over and over again. The message was obvious. One eye on the bigger picture. In the 2020 All-Ireland final, their challenge wilted in the second half. That would not happen again.

Learning as well as yearning.

This was not an overnight process. In 2019, they met Dublin on a similar stage. That semi-final is most famous for the 12-minute blitz when Jim Gavin's outfit unleashed hell on a weary and powerless Mayo.

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Speaking post-match, Horan made clear where he thought they lost the game.

“They were very strong. Their running is very, very strong and their conditioning is very good. They looked impressive when they were running through us, of course they did.

“But maybe our legs got a bit heavy in that period. I’m not trying to make excuses but I’d say our legs were sort of heavy.

“So that kind of had a double whammy effect of making them look a bit stronger and us look tired. But there’s no question their conditioning and their application is top rate.”

Of all the machinery in their considerable arsenal, Dublin's most devastating has always been their power. Weaponised in the form of recycled possession and hand signals. Frequently, the six-in-a-row winners went into keep ball mode with an end goal in mind. Grind opponents down, tire them out. Score and reset.

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As Meath selector Colm Nally told Balls.ie in 2019, it is an efficient tactic.

That is a strategy, they probably have a title on that. Like 'cool ball' or something. When one of the players indicates, there might be certain time on the clock or just to take the sting out of it.

There are bouts of activity. It is well known if a ball stays in play for more than 90 seconds, teams tire and make poor decisions. Dublin are so fit that they can outlast that. I think Dublin try keep the ball. A team chases and might tire, then they might make an incorrect decision.

"It is likely a signal to keep the ball for a bout of activity. I am not saying that is what it is, I’m saying that is what I think it is.

"Dublin are so well conditioned over the years that they can last. They wait for the opposition to make a mistake."

Consider Ciaran Kilkenny's second score in the first half last Saturday.

The clock reads 11.27 when Matthew Ruane kicks Mayo's first point of the tie. 

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From the subsequent kick-out, Dublin regain possession and Cormac Costello drops a shot short. 

 Mayo attack until a smart Michael Fitzsimons turnover. 12.27 is gone on the clock.  

Ciaran Kilkenny is centrally involved as they control possession. 

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After two minutes of continuous play, Dublin work a scoring opportunity and Kilkenny converts. 

In recent years, it is a style that has been occasionally criticised. Unquestionably effective but tediously uneventful. There is no doubt this was of little concern to Dublin. It kept working and they kept winning.

Until it didn't.

Ten minutes into the second half, Dessie Farrell's side were five points up.

Tommy Conroy carries over the sideline and Dublin regain possession. 

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The sides exchange the ball until Dublin recover in their own half. Brian Howard clearly instigates a call with the 'raised hand signal.' 

Even as play progresses, Howard keeps his hand up to emphasise the call. 

Dublin keep the ball and move up the field. However, Mayo pack the centre, pressing the middle and shepherd their opponents down the sideline. 

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Dublin take the bait and attack out wide. They kick pass to the corner. Lee Keegan beats Con O'Callaghan to the ball and intercepts. 

O'Callaghan tries to tackle Keegan but the Westport man effectively sidesteps.

Mayo keep possession and attack. Bar a brief stoppage for a free (2 seconds) play continues until 47.46. Almost three minutes of continuous ball in play.

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Then Lee Keegan attacks. Con O'Callaghan can not stay with him and pulls him down.

A weary O'Callaghan is lucky to avoid a black card as Conor Lane instead shows him yellow.

O'Callaghan and Keegan faced each other in that 2019 clash. It ended disastrously for the 2016 footballer of the year as he conceded two goals.

Then the pandemic came and the season was suspended. That suited some better than others. Keegan had endured his fair share of injury woes. There were four surgeries in three years. Trouble with his ankle, shoulder and hip.

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He knuckled down during lockdown. A home gym, the capability to work from home and ample local greenery offered all that was needed to recoup and revamp.

On Saturday the 31-year old was named man of the match after a dominant performance. Strikingly, he outlasted O'Callaghan in the conditioning stakes.

Keegan's point came after a loose Niall Scully pass. At the time, he was marking O'Callaghan on the edge of the D. 

Mayo

Mayo counterattack and Keegan storms up the field. O'Callaghan can't keep up. 

Mayo

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This problem permeated the team. Suddenly, shockingly, the well ran dry. The reinforcements failed to deliver. In the end, they were spent.

Tiredness is a terrible thing. It can make all-time greats appear ordinary. The execution of basic skills abruptly arduous. In a flash, the team with all the answers became bewildered.

This patient approach of moving and passing was their greatest remedy. On Saturday night it became the poison.

In the final minute of normal time, Dublin once again opted to keep the ball. Mayo would not wilt and pressed high.

As Dublin try to close out the game, Davy Byrne is bent over with fatigue. 

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Ten seconds later, he concedes a crucial '45. 

Mayo

For the guts of a decade, Dublin have been able to outbox every opponent. This time their greatest rival kept swinging. It was a statement and a conclusive edge. Mayo always bring the fight. This time they sustained it.

SEE ALSO: Kevin McStay Explains His 'Bad Call' On The John Small Challenge Against Mayo

Maurice Brosnan

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