Monday 19 August 2019

Joe Brolly: 'Mayo had good enough players but not good enough men to win All-Ireland'

Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons is challenged by Cillian O'Connor of Mayo during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons is challenged by Cillian O'Connor of Mayo during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

Well, that was scary.

Dublin didn’t get overly fussed in the first 35 minutes, and when the half-time whistle went with Mayo two points ahead, there was a thunderous, giddy ovation from the Mayo supporters.

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We had, however, as I said at half-time in the RTÉ studio, been here before. Cork did quite well in the first half against Dublin as well.

Tomás Ó Sé made the mistake of going to the loo at the start of the second half and by the time he rejoined us, Dublin had scored 1-2 and Mayo were melting down.

Rob Hennelly had threatened to collapse in the first half, and in the second he made good on that threat. Of his first five second-half kick-outs, four were returned for scores.

It would be unfair to blame the Breaffy keeper, as Dublin’s assault was overwhelming and complete. “F***ing scary,” said Ó Sé as the electronic scoreboard operator started to worry about getting repetitive strain injury.

When the referee threw up the ball to start the second half, the score was Dublin 0-6 Mayo 0-8. By the 45th minute, a mere 10 minutes later, it was Dublin 2-11, Mayo (still) 0-8.

It was perhaps the most vicious 10 minutes in the history of Gaelic football.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin, right, and Dublin forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the win over Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin, right, and Dublin forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the win over Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Suddenly, Dublin were awake. Sadly, not the West. Blue murder ensued. Lee Keegan slipped, Dublin punished this with a superb Con O’Callaghan goal.

Con had barely touched the ball in the first half, having been hounded by Keegan, who one presumes wears a dog collar under his shirt. Yet, Keegan’s first slip-up was ruthlessly penalised.

Con announced himself as a special player in his first championship year, scoring spectacular solo goals against Tyrone and Mayo in the 2017 semi-final and final. As is the habit of players who are absorbed into this Dublin squad, he is steadily improving.

Kilkenny, Mannion, O’Callaghan, Rock, Howard and Scully were playing now without distraction. Without fear. Without any regard for Mayo.

In the 2017 final, when Mayo went two up in the 63rd minute and it seemed as though they might finally make the breakthrough, Dublin switched on for the final 14 minutes and brutally took the game away from them. Two years on, they switched on for 35 minutes. Brutal is not the word.

I have regularly asked the question, 'Why is it that Dublin have never annihilated Mayo?' My own theory was that they pay them too much respect and tend therefore to make life more difficult for themselves than they should.

On Saturday evening, they restored the balance, destroying this Mayo group and leaving them with no excuses.

It must be said that Mayo’s surrender was total and abject. No doubt, the players will be meeting in clubrooms somewhere in the county over the next few weeks to write James Horan’s resignation letter. Tactically, they had nothing. Strategically they had nothing.

They will, however, find the excuses to absolve themselves from blame: We were late getting to the changing room because Mass ran on too long (this was one of the excuses they wrote down for getting rid of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly).

There wasn’t enough spring water on the bus and the bananas were a little off. I wasn’t allowed to do a TV ad. Rochford wouldn’t pick my clubmate.

The problem with them is, and always has been, that the culture in the group — with some honourable exceptions — is wrong. They have celebrated mediocrity and many of them have put themselves before the group and the good of the county. It is a pity, because they had enough good players to win an All-Ireland. Just not enough good men.

What of the second semi-final today?

One assumes that the Kerry and Tyrone squads ended up watching the game from behind the sofas in their hotels. What comfort can be taken from this game?

Well, Mayo surrendered very quickly. But then again, Dublin’s performance was awesome in that 10-minute spell. One might comment that Dean Rock missed a free torday.

That is indeed true. On the other hand, that free, taken in the 75th minute from around 58 metres, was the only one he missed today, scoring six from seven. This means that since the start of the Super 8, Dean has taken 21 frees and scored 20. Yes, indeed. Are there chinks?

If there are, they are not obvious. Jim Gavin dropped Philly McMahon and Cian O’Sullivan and that left the defence stronger. Up front, their six forwards are not just individually superb, but their chemistry is matchless.

Watching them make dummy runs for each other, knowing that the third pass is going to set X through on goal, shows us how bewildering it is for opposition defences.

Mostly though, it is their clear heads and their refusal to get carried away by anything. After a goal, they turn and point at a colleague to pick up their man. After a second goal, they attack the next kick-out with ultimate ferocity.

After the third goal, they attack the next kick-out with ultimate ferocity. It is relentless. The scoreboard is against them? They just get on with it. The scoreboard is for them? They just get on with it, staying in the moment.

Con O’Callaghan got man of the match and gave an interview that could have come from Gavin. Modest, polite, and looking forward to getting back to training. Funny thing, you’ll never hear a Dub shouting into a mic, “What do you think of that, Joe Brolly?”

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