Saturday 21 October 2017

Eugene McGee: Mayo find their end game to overcome adversity

Mayo forward Liam Irwin shows his determination against Dublin’s Cillian O’Shea and Michael Deegan in Saturday’s EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 semi-final. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile
Mayo forward Liam Irwin shows his determination against Dublin’s Cillian O’Shea and Michael Deegan in Saturday’s EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 semi-final. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Mayo's late, late victory over Dublin in Saturday's All-Ireland U-21 semi-final in O'Connor Park was far more significant than merely reaching an All-Ireland final.

For a start, it has dampened the nonsense that Dublin were going to totally engulf Gaelic football and win everything in sight for the next decade.

This match showed that when it came to raging courage and old-style determination you can beat any opposition as long as you are within striking distance, as these Mayo lads demonstrated.

In addition it proves that Dublin are not the only winning under-age county that can protect and retain minor players and move them up the football scale to the next grade and hopefully finally into senior competition.

On the other hand, of course, this result highlights the weakness of Leinster football once again as Dublin were fancied to win this year's All-Ireland based on their performances in the provincial campaign and they also lost to Tipperary in last year's semi-final.

Significant

However, the most significant aspect of this game applies in particular to Mayo as a football county and, more specifically, with regard to their senior county side this year.

These seniors with the best preparation available to man have over the past four years failed to win the Sam Maguire Cup but the performance of their U-21 side on Saturday must surely be a rallying cry of epic proportions for their senior team as they head for Croke Park again.

Surely, after this performance by the young men of the county against the most glamorous county in the country, the seniors must get additional belief and motivation this year. 'Yes We Can' and all that!

Anyway, this was fabulous game of football with two excellent teams playing positive football and the game fluctuating in the second half in dramatic proportions.

After a terribly poor scoring performance in the first half, Dublin looked in trouble at the break when they trailed by six points, but experienced Mayo supporters would still have been worrying and they would have been right.

Ten minutes after the break, Dublin had scored 1-4 without reply and 15 minutes into the half they had grabbed 1-8 without reply - led in the scoring stakes by Colm Basquel and Michael Deegan and most observers would have sung the old refrain: "Ah, Mayo teams here we go again."

But since they dazzled to win the minor All-Ireland three years ago this bunch of Mayo players has become very resilient and possess loads of self-belief.

Having raced into a four-point lead, it's possible that Dublin players felt they had broken Mayo's spirit but their opponents hit back and took complete control.

Mayo simply refused to be intimidated by the wonderful play of Dublin in the third quarter. Instead, they dug in and got their own show back on the road by outscoring Dublin by six points to one in that vital period. Even a bad wide in the 58th minute did not make them lose their heads.

Wearing the Mayo No 11 jersey, Michael Plunkett played a clever role as sweeper. In general Mayo dominated the midfield exchanges and that essentially was the difference overall between these two very good teams, who were a joy to watch amid the boring stuff we frequently have to endure at senior level these days.

Mayo manager Michael Solan must take some credit for the team spirit as his players also managed to snatch a late, late winner in the Connacht final a fortnight ago. Sure Mayo is full of good team managers nowadays!

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