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Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher: Dublin – the best coached team there ever was

LAST Saturday evening we witnessed a piece of history: the six in-a-row All-Ireland champions Dublin were dethroned at the semi-final stage of this year’s series by their biggest and most consistent threat over the last eight years, Mayo. When we sit back and reflect on what this Dublin team has achieved over the last six years what we should accept is the phenomenal way they have revolutionised the game of football, and how they have become the trend-setters and benchmark for so many.

This group of Dublin players were easily the best coached team the game has ever seen. Their level of game management at times was astonishing. Their ability to stick to a clearly-defined game-plan and ‘process’, as Jim Gavin often referred to it as, took astonishing levels of discipline. Even on Saturday night, in the first half in particular, we saw flashes of that previous process. Ultimately it was their discipline which cost them.

From Stephen Cluxton rebranding kick-outs as possession restarts, their layered defence, the savage levels of defensive intensity, their destructive tackling all over the pitch, how they channelled the opposition down the sideline and used the sideline as an extra defender, they brought so much to the game.

The athleticism and conditioning they brought to the middle eight, the size, pace and power of the forward line, the unique basketball-type coaching, the back door cuts, the one-in-four-out patterns, clearing the ‘D’ and keeping their scoring efficiency to levels never seen before were also brilliant aspects of their game.

Their press on opposition kick-outs, deciding to abandon a man-to-man press and go with a bold aggressive press of three lines of four players, leaving the opposition’s full-forwards at times unmarked such was their belief and trust in their abilities to execute the plan, was incredibly so brave.

The unselfish nature of the substitutes and their ability to enter the game and still remain true to the process and the relentless drive and pursuit of excellence and setting the upmost highest of standards and work rate – it was almost bizarre. This team had it all and were the greatest of all time.

Where did it all go wrong and how did we see this great team collapse and capitulate, only scoring three points in a half and actually pick up more cards during that mad last 55 minutes?

First and foremost, 15 players have departed since Jim Gavin’s team last beat Mayo. That is a serious turnover of players and within that 15 was some serious quality, experience and leadership, none more so than Cluxton. The warning signs were there though long before Saturday night: Only 15 scores against Wexford and no goals, Meath scoring 1-13 in the Leinster semi-final and bringing the game back to one score with time nearly up, and Kildare opening them up for a goal and creating countless other goal chances against them. Last year they didn’t even concede a goal in the whole championship, in fact hardly even a goal chance was conceded in Leinster.

Their normal ruthless efficiency of keeping possession and draining the life out of opposition, particularly late in games, had started to wane. The first sign of that was in the National League semi-final against Donegal where we saw the likes of Brian Fenton doing things he would never do, kicking balls down the throat of sweepers and carelessly hand-passing possession away. Standards had started to drop.

This Mayo team absolutely thrives on making games mad and manic and creating total chaos. It’s fantastic to watch and takes obscene levels of conditioning, but they have that in abundance. Dublin, however, did contribute to their own downfall as a shot-to-score ratio of just 50 per cent is well below the standards they have set.

Mayo retained 90 per cent of their own kick-outs, something unheard of against Dublin. Dessie Farrell’s side turned the ball over 26 times in a game. Crazy numbers. They picked up probably more cards in one game for indiscipline than they nearly did the whole of last year’s championship. That is just astonishing.

Take nothing away from Mayo, unquestionably with the heartache they have suffered at the hands of Dublin in the past no one will deny them this victory. The sad thing is that they still might not win it as they come up against Kerry or Tyrone.

However, as we look forward to a first All-Ireland final without Dublin since 2014 and as Brian Fenton ponders his first ever defeat in championship football, it’s a good time to look back and admire the best coached team football has ever seen – and probably ever will see.

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