Alan Brogan: It was the most physical game ever played - but it took the pace and skill of Costello to decide it
Read Alan Brogan every week in The Herald
Published 03/10/2016 | 18:49
Saturday was, to my mind, the most physical game of football ever played.
Yet it took a fella like Cormac Costello to come in and win it, to show that’s there’s no substitute for real pace and skill.
That intensity in the tackle, that aggression, were things to behold right through the match from both teams.
Space was at an absolute premium. Fellas only had a second or two on the ball. They were shut down frighteningly quickly.
How many times did we see a fella shaping to shoot and then, all of a sudden, the space was closed and he had to pass it off to someone else at the last second?
Particularly around the two half-back lines, the pressure on the ball carriers was phenomenal. More than I’d ever seen.
The sort of contact that midfielders and defenders were getting on forwards was above and beyond anything I’d experienced or watched before.
Obviously guys are spending so much time in the gym and they’re bigger than they ever were and more than anything, Dublin matching Mayo’s aggression made it the game it was.
And then Cormac comes on and wins it.
He was so springy when he went in, he had the energy to bounce away from the tiring Mayo legs.
The Mayo defence hadn’t had to deal with anything like that until then. They just couldn’t handle it.
His pace meant he was able to engineer a small bit of space and get shots off and even under the most overbearing pressure imaginable, his execution was of the highest standard.
Yes, the game had opened up by the time he came on, but not hugely.
So Cormac had to make that space for himself.
The evidence was in the fact that no-one else on the pitch was able to generate that room to shoot.
Think how few free shots were given up in that match.
Andy Moran had one. Bernard had a couple that were blocked down incredibly quickly.
So it just shows you that that sort of electrifying pace is almost impossible to deal with.
He had a serious amount of work to do to, firstly, carve a little gap to get a shot off and then to execute the kicks.
Obviously, it was Cormac’s biggest performance for Dublin, though he’s had chances in the past.
Cormac’s size has probably worked against him, particularly with the advancement of packed defences but to kick three points in the last 15 minutes of an All-Ireland final really is the stuff of dreams.
He’s 22 now, so he has time. But he’ll have to push on because his talent was there for everyone to see.
It was a great night, too, for Mick Fitzsimons. Mick has been around a long time and he’s a very solid defender but as a footballer, he wouldn’t be as skilled as fellas like Philly McMahon or Jonny Cooper, something that has probably worked against him under Jim.
Those lads are as comfortable kicking a point or spraying the ball 50 yards as they are in the tackle and that’s possibly where Mick has lost out.
He isn’t as dexterous a footballer as the lads but in terms of straight-up, man-to-man defending, there’s no-one better in Dublin.
He burst through late on in the replay and you could almost see him thinking about the shot, but he passed it off to Bernard, who was blocked. If that was Philly or Jonny, it would have gone straight over the bar.
But for games like that, when things are so tight, a Mick Fitzsimons in your team is invaluable.
He’s as sticky a corner-back as I’ve ever come across and on Saturday, he got his hands in places where no-one else was getting a grip and it’s on those fine margins that All-Irelands are won and lost.
It wasn’t, granted, the most spectacular All-Ireland final we’ve ever seen but in terms of commitment and aggression and endeavour, it’s up there.
And the better team just edged it.
Inevitably now, the talk of three-in-a-row will start and it won’t take Jim Gavin long to start thinking and plotting for that again.
Such is their success of late, maybe it’s natural that we start to take this Dublin team for granted, but it’s only right that they’re called a great team after doing back-to-back All-Irelands.
It’s a phenomenal achievement.