Monday 19 November 2018

Billy Keane: Gavin's troops now immortal but Mayo win nation's hearts

Mayo players during the national anthem prior to the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo players during the national anthem prior to the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Dublin won the three in a row on a sunny autumn Sunday in Croke Park and so it is that this team joins the ranks of the football immortals.

And, yes Mayo, the sun will shine for you some day and that some day will be sometime soon.

This was another one of those never-to-be-forgotten games. A game for peeping at through the gaps in closed fingers covering our eyes. Dublin and Mayo played the finest kind of match for all Ireland, and for all ages.

Jim Gavin's men are the ultimate prizefighters. The skill is there in abundance, but Dublin can close out wins like no other team we have ever seen.

One million people are as one today in our capital city. There is no other force or movement that has so united a people so much in need of a common cause.

The rest of Ireland weep for Mayo and her people who love their team so much. Dublin are All-Ireland champions; Mayo are the people's champions.

Dublin had heroes who won it for them. Cian O' Sullivan drove on and brought his team with him. Diarmuid Connolly hasn't played for months; he has so much football in him. Yes, there were days when he has been sent to the bold corner, but when Connolly came on Dublin seemed to find impetus and direction. He has been granted absolution now.

Dean Rock had an awful start. One of his scuffed frees was a high handicapper's daisy cutter. All the great players come back from misfortune. Dean has the ability to put mistakes behind him and his free-kick won it for Dublin.

That winning free was the right call. The Mayo player had to foul or it would have been a goal.

It was a tough game to ref. It could be that Joe McQuillan was blindsided when Eoghan O'Gara made contact with a Mayo man in the eye area - O'Gara was already on a yellow. Then there were possible black card trips by Dublin players in the 11th and 16th minutes.

Mayo should have had a definite penalty, while Donal Vaughan's rash challenge was more on the shoulder and should have been a yellow, but he did put himself in the dock.

One of the linesmen indicated the challenge was shoulder high, but in the GAA reds come in pairs.

The referee did give Aidan O'Shea a break early in the second-half when he could easily have been blacked. And Mayo were given extra-time for an equaliser, but Dublin went marsupial and buried the ball in the pouch.

I'm wondering if Mayo would have won if the crucial calls went their way? My guess is Dublin were just that tiny bit better. They always respond in kind to every and any challenge - this is their greatest virtue as a team.

There was a time when Mayo had a run on Dublin. Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs were decoded, but Jim Gavin changed the game, and won the game too, when he pulled most of his team behind the ball. That gave Dublin time to recover. Some of his gambles didn't win, but Gavin changed the side around and in the end he found his best team.

Stephen Rochford deserves massive credit. He has that likeability that gets players playing for him. He had a very good year overall. I thought, though, that maybe Andy Moran should have stayed on until the end.

Surely Andy will win Player of the Year. He has wheels like the ones under armchairs on his soles and he swivelled in to set up position for three great points. Andy was always out in front and his quick pass made Lee Keegan's goal.

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Two teams of young men gave their all. The game was played at a frantic pace. In the end both teams were out on their feet. I have never seen so many players cramp in an All-Ireland final.

Dublin's bench won it yet again. Bernard Brogan made a crucial point and should have been awarded a free. Kevin McManamon hustled and bustled. Connolly won the winning free.

Dublin will look to the four in a row and it will take some team to stop their march. And after four comes five.

Our minors were superb and we might be ready for Dublin in two years. I hope so.

How will Mayo the team and Mayo the people process this? Can it be that the team who never give up will lie down, or will they say 'one more year'. One more journey, one more Mayo odyssey.

Keep on going Mayo. You have taught those of us who sometimes lose our resolve to be brave. You have taught our country how to back our own. You have shown us there is honour in defeat.

Don't give up on us now.

Irish Independent

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