Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

Dublin v Mayo All-Ireland final: will it be east or west?

Meeting again: Dublin's Brendan Brogan and Ger Cafferkey of Mayo will come face to face this weekend

In the RTÉ commentary box, Pat Spillane could not wait to unburden himself.

He had just sat through 35 minutes of the most scintillating football anyone had bore witness to in Croke Park in years – perhaps a contender for best game ever if you want to head down that utterly pointless boulevard – and what did he do?

He talked about what didn't happen.

Instead of praising the skills on show, the vision, spatial awareness and kicking ability of Colm Cooper, the finishing of Donnchadh Walsh, the guile of Paul Mannion, he went off on a rampage against his most trusted target; modern football.

It had, he insisted, been 'hi-jacked' by 'defensive-minded coaches'. It was a familiar act and at least you have to say he is consistent even though he just managed to stop short of blaming the whole thing on Nordies. No, actually, he did. Again.

But what he failed to articulate was the shift of philosophy.

Seven days previous, Tyrone spent the first 20 minutes of the other semi-final winding themselves around the neck of Mayo like a cobra, about to squeeze.

A hefty challenge from Tom Cunniffe put Peter Harte out of the game, before Stephen O'Neill's creaking ankle finally blew up and he had to depart. Tyrone caused bother but there were signs that Mayo only needed to settle themselves in order to impose their own gameplan.

The message was clear; the defensive strategies originating in Ulster that became de rigueur, indeed, essential to success over the past decade, were being blown apart by teams with relentless dedication to skills and pace.

Dublin selector Declan D'arcy feels that the way the Metropolitans play football is only an expression of the group.

"The management group are very much into the players expressing themselves and want to play positive football," he said.

"I don't think we'd want to be involved in a team that would play a very negative or defensive type of football.

"If that means we're not going to win then, look it, we'll take that hit and consider that. It's not what we are about but, at the same time, we're very lucky with the group we have, that we probably don't have to go down that road.

"We've a lot of very good, talented players and want them to express themselves."

Those neutrals that follow Crossmaglen Rangers in the Tony McEntee era, and there have been many that have enjoyed that period, had been privy to a glimpse into the future.

Stripped back to its most basic elements of skill and speed, football can be played and enjoyed. With two of the most entertaining teams in the country in Mayo, seeking to end their mammoth Sam Maguire famine, and Dublin in this Sunday's All-Ireland final, the sport can rid itself of negative mindsets.

Expecting all teams to play in the same way is unrealistic, but it may at the very least encourage other ways of playing rather than adopting the Venus fly-trap approach of blanket-defence, then counter-attack.

In the meantime, you can enjoy what unfolds on Sunday without the emotional investment that an Ulster team competing brings.

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