Ciaran Whelan: I am sorry for what Mayo have suffered
I was left with a strange feeling once again in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s thrilling clash in Croke Park.
Normally, the delight at Dublin winning the All-Ireland would supersede all other emotions but maybe the joy is something that will come to me later in the week when I have had time to gather my emotions fully.
To be honest, I just would have preferred to see Dublin win by seven or eight points and spare Mayo the gut-wrenching feeling of another heart-breaking defeat by the narrowest of margins.
Mayo went to the well again and I’m sure the last thing that they’ll want to hear is the usual platitudes of how unlucky they were but I am genuinely sorry for what they went through yesterday, given how much they brought to the occasion.
It wasn’t a classic in terms of pure football but it rarely is between these two teams, and so it proved.
Mayo once again showed that they are the only side in the current game that can live with Dublin and they can take great credit from the manner in which they dominated the game in the opening half, despite the concession of that early goal to Con O’Callaghan.
The reason for their dominance was that they stifled Dublin at source, proving superior in terms of the restarts and forcing Stephen Cluxton to go long.
As a consequence, the likes of Tom Parsons, Seamie O’Shea and Aidan O’Shea were able to control these challenges and Mayo seemed to show far greater appetite in hoovering up any loose ball that spilled around the middle third.
In contrast, Dublin were quite laboured and never really came to terms with the game initially and I’m not sure that bringing Eoghan O’Gara in to start was the right move on the day.
Dublin’s attack failed to click during that period and maybe they got caught between the temptation of hitting long into O’Gara and going through the phases.
Also, the possession they had was limited due to Lee Keegan doing an excellent man-marking job to nullify Ciaran Kilkenny’s influence and Jack McCaffrey’s injury certainly didn’t help either in terms of Dublin breaking through the highly organised Mayo defence.
However, while Mayo largely controlled the terms in which the game was being played, crucially, they were unable to reflect it on the scoreboard and that was the massive difference by the final whistle.
They left four or five gilt-edged opportunities behind them to put a more accurate barometer of their control where it mattered and that has been a repeated failing for this particular team in recent years, despite all their impressive qualities.
Dublin’s struggles in terms of the kick-outs made for a quick change in tactics and it was evident that Cluxton took advice from Jason Sherlock towards the end of the half with the instruction to keep the kick-outs short.
As a result, Dublin never went long upon the resumption and enjoyed a 100 per cent success rate and, more importantly from their perspective, a springboard to build attacks from deep and place Mayo’s defenders under a more concerted level of pressure.
The changes in terms of personnel also worked for Dublin and it was of scant surprise to see both O’Gara and Paddy Andrews taken off at the break after relatively peripheral displays from the pair.
The introduction of both Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly had a positive effect, with the latter dragging Keith Higgins from his comfort zone, while McManamon brought a different challenge to a Mayo defence that had been far too comfortable initially.
Dublin’s greater levels of possession led to a greater amount of scoring chances and it was at this stage that you saw Paul Mannion show the threat that he can be, with the Kilmacud Crokes player shining in the second half.
It looked like Dublin would move through the gears and they were blessed when Donal Vaughan acted in such an irresponsible manner to get sent-off, a key moment in a contest of such fine margins.
Even when Lee Keegan scored his excellent goal, Mayo failed to build on that score and there are moments in games that appear match-defining for a reason and that is something that Mayo will rue in the coming days and weeks
By not building on the momentum of that score, it allowed Dublin to regroup and it was during this period that players of the calibre of Brian Fenton and James McCarthy began to exert a more profound influence on the game.
McCarthy was phenomenal in the final 20 minutes and his Ballymun Kickhams clubmate Dean Rock also deserves huge praise for the composure he showed in kicking that winning free.
He had scuffed a horrible free in the first half but when the game was there to be won, Rock had the temperament to kick such a precise and measured shot.
That moment was a microcosm of what Dublin have been about over the past few years of success, showing your best when it’s needed and retaining this ability to win despite not playing to your potential and they are so mature in everything that they do.