Wednesday 21 March 2018

Alan Brogan: There is no doubting the fact that this is the greatest Dublin team ever

The Dublin players with the Sam Maguire Cup during the All-Ireland Senior Football Champions Homecoming at Smithfield Square in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
The Dublin players with the Sam Maguire Cup during the All-Ireland Senior Football Champions Homecoming at Smithfield Square in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

When you think about what Dublin managed to achieve yesterday afternoon, I think it is still difficult to appreciate the magnitude of their achievement in winning their third successive All-Ireland title.

Once again, you could look at the overall performance and find fault with certain parts of it but you could never question the character that they showed in getting over the line.

That level of resilience is what makes them such a difficult team to beat and more importantly, what makes them winners. There was evidence of those qualities all the way through Sunday’s thrilling final.

Does yesterday’s victory make them the greatest-ever Dublin team? I reckon that it does and really, the only question is whether they compare with the wonderful Kerry team from the 1970s.

Analysts may quibble with the quality of their performance in a final once again, something that has been thrown at them after 2013 and last year.

However, they find a way to get the job done and their record over the past five years is unbelievable, given all the titles they have managed to win.

Either way, they found the required resilience and mental fortitude to finish the game in the ascendancy and they deserve immense credit for that. 

Credit must also go to the Dublin management for making the correct changes at the break as there’s no arguing that Dublin played on the back foot for most of the opening half.

It was obvious from the outset that the game was largely being played on Mayo’s terms and Dublin struggled to gain a foothold in the game, despite the boost of that excellent Con O’Callaghan goal in the opening minutes.

The movement around the middle third looked laboured and naturally, the loss of Jack McCaffrey through injury didn’t help them in terms of their attacking play.

McCaffrey is one of Dublin’s most potent attacking weapons and it’s no coincidence that Dublin struggled for go-forward ball when he went off.

They lost a degree of spark and as a consequence, were devoid of ideas for most of that first half. But like true champions, they found themselves only a point in arrears at half-time, despite their struggles in attack.

They certainly had far more shape in the second-half and I thought that Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly both did very well when introduced.

Where Dublin had struggled to create chances in the first half, there was far more confidence in their forward play upon the restart and the scores started coming far more freely.

I think that credit must also go to Paul Mannion for his quality in the second half, as I was concerned about his display initially.

We saw a far more dangerous player after the break and the scores that he got showed what a dangerous player he can be and how important he has become to the current set-up.

James McCarthy also came forward to kick two cracking scores at vital times and Dublin seemed to be getting the upper hand until they were hit with that brilliant Lee Keegan goal.

The momentum changed a degree at that juncture but crucially, Mayo failed to build on that score and I’m not sure that taking off Andy Moran did them any favours either.

Moran was brilliant all the way through and had Dublin’s defence in trouble right from the first whistle. Although he tired somewhat in the second half, he still looked threatening whenever he received possession and troubled Michael Fitzsimons throughout with the quality of his movement.

Whereas Dublin were able to bring on serious quality from the bench, Mayo and Stephen Rochford did not have the same luxury and that’s what made Moran’s substitution all the more puzzling to me.

In a match of such fine margins, the actions of the free-takers in the closing stages will gain added scrutiny and Cillian O’Connor will be hugely disappointed to see his late free rebound off the upright.

His miss was accentuated by Dean Rock coolly slotting over his late free and as we expected all the way through the week in the build-up to the game, there was never really going to be more than a kick of a ball between the teams.

I never felt that any team would win by five or six points as the recent history between the teams is one of tight, nerve-shredding drama and Sunday was another case in point.

That will make the defeat for Mayo even more unbearable but as always, while they may not want to hear any platitudes now, they deserve huge credit for the manner in which they dug deep once again – only to be denied in such heart-breaking fashion.

Of course, they could have been celebrating last night if Donal Vaughan had not reacted in such an ill-disciplined manner to John Small’s challenge in the second half and I would imagine that he will rue that rush of blood to the head for a very long time.

However, keeping discipline is something that is hugely important in the modern game, and never more so than in an All-Ireland final. I don’t think Mayo could argue with the decision to send him off.

That allowed Dublin to remain on parity in terms of personnel for the last quarter and I felt that Dublin looked the team that were going to win it in the hectic last six to eight minutes.

They were more controlled in what they did and created more chances during that period and that is a sign of a team with tremendous reserves of courage and character.

It may not have been pretty but like other wins in recent years, it proved effective by the final whistle and that’s all that will matter to this team that are a credit to the county.

Herald Sport

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