Friday 19 January 2018

Time no healer of Mayo's pain

O'Connor's decision not to go for goal is major talking point as Green and Red curse drags on

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

WHEN the final whistle went Ger Cafferkey walked straight off the pitch and down the tunnel, eyes fixed forward, unable to stomach the fireworks and ticker-tape that would rub further salt in as Mayo's remarkable 62-year hoodoo continued.

Down in their goalmouth Robert Hennelly, a man who only answered the call mid-summer and was absolutely heroic in defeat, was so distraught that his old DCU team-mate, Dublin corner-back Jonny Cooper, just threw his arms around him in an effort at consolation.

When Mayo's players eventually emerged from the dressing-room, Aidan O'Shea was still inconsolable and even irrepressible captain Andy Moran, who had typically produced his best form when it mattered most, struggled to stop his lip quivering at one point.

The two big talking points were Dublin's lop-sided foul ratio – they fouled 32 times to Mayo's 12 – and why Cillian O'Connor hadn't gone for a goal with that final free.

Manager James Horan did his best to be diplomatic.

"When you ask the ref how long is left, when you ask him twice, and he tells you there's at least 30 seconds left after the score, that's a little disappointing," he said.

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor and Barry Moran confront referee Joe McQuillan as he looks at his watch after the final whistle was blown at Croke Park at the end of the All-Ireland final
Mayo's Cillian O'Connor and Barry Moran confront referee Joe McQuillan as he looks at his watch after the final whistle was blown at Croke Park at the end of the All-Ireland final

"Can I do anything about it? Not a friggin' thing, it's pointless," he said when pressed on the issue.

Moran was a little more forthright. "We had chances at the end. Cillian had a free and the ref tells him that there's 30 seconds left and then he blows it from the kick-out!

"That's a bit of a pain in the a**e to be honest, but, hey, listen, these things happen."

And what of the free-count and the fact that Dublin were willing to haul Mayo down whenever necessary? "Sure ye guys can write all about that.

"There was a lot of hullabaloo when we played them before but we won't make a big hullabaloo about it," Horan insisted, something Keith Higgins reiterated.

"Obviously they were trying to slow up the game in the last 10 minutes but a lot of teams would be trying to do the same thing at that stage, to kill the game off.

"It's not like they're going to get penalised for it, it's just the way the game is gone.

"If things were the other way around we might have done the same ourselves," he figured.

Being forced to move the outstanding Higgins back to corner-back duties undoubtedly deprived Mayo of their best ball-winner.

"Keith was excellent up front but Tom Cunniffe was injured and we needed to get Keith's experience back there, we were robbing Peter to pay Paul," Horan explained.

He said that Alan Freeman, hauled off after 27 minutes, had a bad 'flu during the week and they brought off Seamus O'Shea because he had tired and was "playing in spurts" and they wanted fresh legs in midfield.

"We had enough ball to win the game, we just made too many mistakes and had too many turnovers, I think it's that straightforward," Horan said dispassionately.

"We dominated the first 15 minutes but we didn't get the score return we possibly should have, we had too many wides.

"It was closer at half-time than it should have been and, in the second half, when we were attacking, we just made some poor decisions at times and it eventually cost us."

The rest of us might have been expecting the 'People's final' and lovely open football but Higgins reckoned that was never going to be the case.

"It was always going to be a dog-fight. People were expecting end-to-end stuff like Dublin's semi-final with Kerry but finals are usually a different kettle of fish.

"There were times alright when it was back and over but I didn't ever think it was going to be that kind of a final," he said.

Asked how his players will recover from the body-blow of losing a second consecutive All-Ireland final, and by a mere point, Horan insisted "there's serious calibre in those guys.

"They're made of the right stuff so they'll dust themselves down and go again, there's absolutely no doubt about it."

"It's tough but we've no choice, we're not going to pack it in," said Higgins defiantly.

"We'll probably be back playing club football next week and take it from there."

But Andy Moran's lip wobbled momentarily when he admitted:"To be honest, we're devastated, there were tears there.

"We're in a situation now where the Andy Murray phrase comes out.

"He was very close to it for a long time and got over the line in the end. We're going to keep fighting and we definitely will be back.

"We've a very good team. The only problem is that Donegal were a very good team last year and played a bit better on the day and Dublin are a very good team and played a bit better on the day too.

"You saw Ger Brennan kicking the ball over with his right foot from 40 yards!" he reflected ruefully.

"Sometimes it's just your day."

Irish Independent

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