Mayo must find a forward of Brogan's class to end famine
Published 23/09/2013 | 05:00
Practically everybody in the GAA – other than Dublin of course – would have loved to see Mayo win the All-Ireland after failing to win their previous seven finals.
But while emotion plays a huge role in all sports and often inspires participants to incredible feats of performance, the only defining measurement of which team deserves to win a final is ability on that day.
Therefore sentiment must take a back seat today as we acknowledge that Dublin deserved to beat Mayo in Croke Park yesterday.
It was a tight divide between the teams but winners generally win because they are the better team, no matter by how slight that division is.
As so often happens in All-Ireland finals, this was a game of the unexpected – and sadly for neutrals most of this was from a disappointing aspect.
We did not get the free-flowing game of fast, open, non-stop football that was expected. Many of the predicted tactical manoeuvres from both teams failed.
Players who had given star performances all year turned out to be ordinary, as is proven by the fact that the full quota of five subs were used by both teams.
The large number of silly scoring attempts, often into the goalkeeper's hands, by both teams was surprising but maybe the occasion and the hype was a factor there. But Mayo 'keeper Rob Hennelly certainly had no problems and saved his team from a serious defeat.
But let us not take away from the overall contribution of all the players on the biggest sporting occasion in Ireland each year.
The level of dedication, bravery and sportsmanship was outstanding and allowed most spectators to be happy enough with what they saw.
The fact that we expected more greatness than we saw only goes to prove that sport is not an exact science and we cannot turn brilliance on and off at the turn of a tap.
This game was more lost by Mayo than won by Dublin in that it was Mayo who made the most mistakes thereby allowing Dublin to be patient, settle down into a rhythm and above all never start doing panicky things.
These are the qualities of all great teams who genuinely believe in themselves and I am afraid the Mayo players will have to work even harder on these aspects of their game if they want to win the Sam Maguire Cup.
For example, Mayo should have had this game almost won by half-time instead of just leading by a single point.
They dominated the first quarter completely and only slipped slightly after that to half-time. They led, deservedly, by 0-6 to 1-1 after 20 minutes, which really should have provided the platform for victory even at that early stage.
But then for some strange reason Mayo took a new direction and instead of their normal forceful running at opposing defences, as they had done all year, they began to kick high balls into the Dublin goalmouth, and the failure of this was shown by Mayo managing to glean only two scores in the last 15 minutes of the half.
To compound matters, the change of style gave new belief to the previously stretched Dublin backs, who only conceded 1-6 in the entire second half, with none of these points coming from play.
By comparison with Mayo's avalanche of scores all season, this was a shocking decline in quality attacking play.
One of the unexpected things in this game was the earlier than usual arrival of the Dublin reinforcements in the form of five subs – Eoghan O'Gara was warming up in the 14th minute.
This showed that Jim Gavin was not happy with how his team was performing and they never got ahead by more than three points in that second half.
This must particularly annoy Mayo followers because unlike many recent All-Ireland debacles they were always close enough to their opponents to win the game – had they been good enough.
Dublin won deservedly despite several players struggling either through injury or being outplayed, such as Paul Mannion and Ciaran Kilkenny, but their subs provided the impetus that kept the team ahead and thereby forced Mayo into more and more pressure plays that often did not work out.
A critical factor, bearing in mind the close finish, was that Mayo players seemed to lose their concentration regarding Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs in the final quarter.
This gave vital possession to Dublin to hold on for dear life and deny Mayo scoring chances. Remember, Dublin only scored three points, two from frees, in the final 23 minutes – the game was really that tight.
Dublin are league and All-Ireland winners now on merit and their future looks bright.
There is little in Leinster to trouble them on the horizon and they seem likely to become permanent visitors to the quarter-finals. If they continue with their current adventurous style of play, that will be good for football in the years ahead.
There is little point in nitpicking aspects of Mayo's play that cost them the game – I am sure James Horan and his helpers will learn and implement changes on and off the field where necessary.
But a lack of urgency when the game was in the balance showed immaturity, such as Cillian O'Connor taking a long time to set up the last free that left only a point in it.
But whereas last week I said to myself that if Mayo lost this final it would be a massive setback because they were so good and well prepared, I now feel that they are certainly capable of going further – but not unless they can unearth a forward or two that could be ranked in the top 10 in the country.
Very few teams win All-Irelands without such players. Ordinary or very good is not good enough to win the All-Ireland – just look at Bernard Brogan yesterday!
Not many managers win the Sam Maguire Cup at their very first attempt, so Jim Gavin deserves special acknowledgment for that great achievement – but Jim, give the other counties a chance sometime in the next 10 years or so!