Wednesday 25 April 2018

Joe Brolly: As Enda Kenny told me afterwards: ‘Curse my a**e, Joe, Dublin just scored more than us’

Analysis

Eoghan O’Gara tackles Mayo’s Colm Boyle at the end of yesterday’s first half. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoghan O’Gara tackles Mayo’s Colm Boyle at the end of yesterday’s first half. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

This was the worst of their many agonising defeats. Mayo did everything they needed to do except win it. This time, none of them were shirking despite being hit with an early sucker punch from the brilliant Con O'Callaghan.

After the 'Cuala Kid' mesmerised them with an incredible solo goal, which involved using both feet, bouncing the ball with one hand, drawing the keeper then sliding it off the outside of his left for a perfect entrée, Mayo went to work. Lee Keegan, the Freddie Krueger of Gaelic footballers, populated Ciaran Kilkenny's mind. Afterwards, it was hard to remember anything the Dublin quarter-back did. Was he actually playing? A total of 66 possessions against Tyrone dropped to eight yesterday.

Then, the Nightmare on Jones's Road scored a goal. Just to rub it in.

Mayo tempted Stephen Cluxton to kick long in the first half. Cluxton likes to rise to a challenge. Mayo annihilated those long kicks. Cluxton tried seven in the first half, Mayo won six of them, giving them an attacking platform that penned the Dubs in. They continued to play those beautiful diagonal balls through to their inside duet, with Andy Moran again performing at the very highest level.

The evergreen Mayo corner-forward kicked three points in the first half, set up the Mayo goal and laid on the chance for Jason Doherty that might have won them the game.

Any other team would have cracked.

Indeed, the Dubs were rattled by half time. Eoghan O'Gara wasn't turning out to be the target man they had hoped he would, their playmaker had disappeared, and Mayo were playing with absolute conviction.

Sadly for them, the time for absolute conviction is the second half. Paul Mannion's move to full forward transformed the game. Dublin now had a target to hit with long foot passes and we began to see flashes of what they do best.

Down the stretch, Mayo looked the more likely, continuing to perform heroically. "But can they keep going at 100mph?" I wrote in my notes. Doherty missed a great goal chance in the 43rd minute, doing everything wrong in the process.

Decisive

He kicked across the goalie, from right to left on his right foot, instead of slipping in at the near post. He also put it at the perfect height. Never mind, Paul Mannion did exactly the same a minute later. So the Doherty miss was not decisive.

There were three reasons they lost. The first was the moment of idiocy from Donie Vaughan, racing in to flap a handbag at John Small's face. Not only did he get himself sent off, just as Dublin were being reduced to 14 men, but he got the Mayo free overturned at a critical time.

Given Mayo's mindset yesterday, it is hard to think that Dublin could have held out for 35 minutes with 14 men. It is something he will live to bitterly regret.

The second was Cillian O'Connor's missed free in the 72nd minute when it felt like Mayo's time. Like last year, he missed the clutch free. There is no point in blaming curses when scoreable frees are missed at the crunch.

The third reason was two poor kickouts in the final few minutes from David Clarke. The first was needlessly kicked long and won by Dublin, leading to the winning free. This illustrated the difference between winners and losers.

Dean Rock, who had a few wobbly moments earlier in the game, coolly won the contest for his team. With everything still to play for, Clarke kicked the defining kickout over the sideline. Dublin held possession from then until the final whistle.

Mayo covered themselves in glory. The game was one of the greatest ever seen. The defending, the scoring, the hitting and the courage will never be forgotten by anyone lucky enough to witness it.

It is heartbreaking for Mayo but they have only themselves to blame. Enda Kenny put it best after the game. "Curse my arse Joe, they just scored more than us."

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