'We're just looking for consistency' - Jim Gavin criticises referee Conor Lane over black card
Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30
Lady Luck is a peculiar mistress.
Usually it's the underdogs who get the rub of the green but Dublin boss Jim Gavin was quick to acknowledge the huge slices of fortune his reigning champions were served as they held their grasp on Sam Maguire, just.
Two first-half goals, or own-goals in this case, were the only scores they had to show after half an hour as Mayo shut out the Dubs' much-vaunted attack, reducing them to bit players on the game's biggest occasion.
Only first-half substitute Paddy Andrews made any significant inroads as both Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon were removed, and Diarmuid Connolly neutralised by a Mayo defence which refused to bow at the feet of football's kingpins.
It's hard to envisage the Dubs being similarly off-colour in a fortnight's time and after setting such consistent standards throughout his illustrious reign, Gavin was visibly relieved to have another shot at two-in-row, and managerial immortality.
Great teams can summon something deeper when things are falling apart at the seams and points normally scored, tackles usually made and balls ordinarily caught were all missed. And yet, they live to fight another day.
"Just delighted to be still in the Championship," Gavin said in the immediate aftermath. "After that performance, we didn't really deserve to win and we're just happy to be leaving with the opportunity to go at it again.
"It's not to the standards that we would go after. Playing a really good Mayo team, as we saw. We knew there was only going to be the bounce of a ball, which there was. So obviously that first quarter of the second-half, when they came strong at us…
"But our guys showed great mental resolve to hang in there and push on again. We pushed on…went three points up in the last ten but over the expanse of the game, we didn't…we just didn't perform to our standards. We didn't deserve to win."
Just six points from play in nearly 80 minutes is unheard of for the Dubs, who stretched their unbeaten streak in league and championship to 28 games, but amazingly they still led by three heading into injury time.
It has been their custom to put the final nails in the opposition coffin in those clutch minutes but given the "stop-start" nature of their display, it was no surprise to Gavin that Mayo never threw in the towel in a dramatic finale.
"There's no guarantees and the way we were playing, that stop-start play, we were definitely going to concede and we're just happy that we're still in the competition. It certainly isn't good enough to win an All-Ireland title getting that much from play," the two-time All-Ireland-winning manager reasoned.
"I think when you look back on the games that we've had in the last couple of seasons, there is only a point or two in it when we play any Division 1 side, very rarely do we get a run on teams and one thing about this Dublin team is they're very adaptable."
Such flexibility allowed Ciarán Kilkenny to seamlessly drop back into defence following James McCarthy's harsh black card for a shoulder on Cillian O'Connor, while John Small was outstanding on the other wing in his first final start, kicking a crucial point a la his predecessor Jack McCaffrey.
McCarthy's controversial dismissal to the stands in the 24th minute didn't please Gavin with the 45-year-old questioning the decision-making of referee Conor Lane, another final debutant, in the Croke Park pressure cooker before admitting conditions weren't in his favour.
"I suppose when you look at why the black card was brought in, it was for cynical play, for blocks, pull-downs or trips. I don't think it (McCarthy's tackle) fits into that category. But from the referee's performance, we're just looking for consistency.
"That certainly wasn't out there today. Definitely, if James got a black card for that particular shoulder, there was definitely other ones on the opposition side. So I think from both camps we just want consistency over the full expanse of the game from the refereeing perspective. Difficult as it was - and I thought he did a good job, difficult conditions."
A similar situation presented itself in last year's semi-final when Mayo came late to stun the Dubs and earn a second chance before Gavin's army delivered a blistering finish to swat the Connacht challenge aside.
Such experience is worth its weight in gold and the 1995 All-Ireland winning forward expects his squad to be eager to right the wrongs of yesterday and make amends while he swatted any notions aside that the expectation of joining Kevin Heffernan's 1976/77 side with back-to-back titles played any part in their surprising under-performance.
"We've been here before in this situation and we've learned from it. We've pushed on from it. So the mindset and the culture that is within the group is that they'll go after and look for that learning piece and try and improve it for the next day. It's certainly in our hands in that regard," he said.
"They want to perform, that's their drive to go and get performances and they really look at that as disappointment, they're disappointed for not performing and they'll relish the challenge. They're already talking about that game in two weeks' time and they're looking forward to it already to get the chance to rectify that performance.
"The players are very accustomed to that performance bubble, we're just meeting a very good side in Mayo, a top-class side and there is only going to be that bounce of a ball between us and the players know there's no guarantees in sport."
Dublin will "recharge the batteries" and regroup midweek and Gavin hopes to have his guardian angel on his shoulder again on October 1. "We had the luck today and hopefully we'll have it again in two weeks' time."
No matter how good you are, it's always nice to have that lady smiling down on you and some days it's better be lucky than good, as Gavin will attest to.