Friday 15 December 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Dublin must abandon 2017 league if they want to secure three in-a-row

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad is an old Latin phrase which Mayo have given a more modern meaning to. The agony continues and again they have contributed greatly to their own downfall. Mayo teams have a great capacity to undermine heroic effort with a wild attempt at Russian roulette. This time it manifested itself with a goalkeeping decision which to most observers defied logic.

Within the management group they could have rationalised the great move by deciding that Robert Hennelly was a better man to kick out the ball and that Dublin were more likely to push right up and force David Clarke to kick long, something he is not very good at. There may have been a certain bravery and ruthlessness in the move but it was a spectacular failure. I am not wise after the event here as I said before the match on TV that I did not consider it a good move and even at half-time made it clear that Hennelly should have been substituted at that stage. Nothing wrong with admitting it was a bad call.

At that point the first few kick-outs were a disaster; one early on went to an area where Dublin outnumbered Mayo three to one, while another cost them their best player Lee Keegan. My fears in advance were based on the fact that Hennelly has not had the temperament in the past to deal with such an occasion. A short kick-out which went astray and led directly to the Galway goal in the Connacht Championship was one of the reasons why he was originally dropped, not to mention big games in Croke Park in the past, and goalkeepers must have a calming influence.

Nobody could take any satisfaction from seeing a man crumble like this but it does show that the last line of defence is much the hardest. If Hennelly can recover from this setback he will demonstrate even greater resilience than that which is rightfully associated with this Mayo team. This whole affair could have destroyed David Clarke too and it showed his strength of character to come on and do so well.

If the Mayo decision on their starting 15 dominated the headlines, Dublin went in for more radical surgery which only worked in the case of Michael Fitzsimons who was magnificent. The other two changes, Paul Mannion and Paddy Andrews, had little impact on the game and they were eventually called ashore but the quality of Dublin's subs was much greater than the Mayo bench.

The two whose contribution swung the day were Michael Darragh Macauley and Cormac Costello. Macauley was at his bustling best in the last quarter, winning possession at midfield, making ground, laying it off and giving Dublin a very physical presence in a vital area.

Last Sunday I eulogised Costello, the little boy lost who found the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. Could you see a Mayo forward ever doing something similar? Coming on and scoring three points? It was something which was beyond the entire Mayo forward line for a whole game. C'est ca, la difference, as the French might put it . That, my friends, is the difference. Teams rarely win All-Irelands with the Mayo formula: brilliant backs , good midfield and limited scoring power up front. It is normally the other way round, great forwards are the key.

Dublin were nowhere near their best and still won. It is a tribute to the unquenchable spirit of Mayo but the grind of leagues, Leinsters and Sam was showing in the Dublin play. They looked tired and it was a tribute to their courage and willpower that they finished the job. The baton of responsibility was passed on too, as a new group of leaders emerged over two games.

Fenton, Small, Kilkenny, Rock, Cooper among others took on the challenge. The lure of three in a row must be strong for Jim Gavin and all the players. If they really want it badly they will need to abandon next year's league and just go after the big prize; no man, animal or engine could keep going as long as this group have been on the road, clocking up miles, games, injuries and trophies and it did take the edge off them.

In games of tight margins refereeing decisions can make all the difference and by not sending off John Small for the most obvious black card it meant that Maurice Deegan lost all credibility with the players early on. After that he sent off Jonny Cooper as a reaction and Lee Keegan who should not have walked the plank. This black card rule has caused far more problems than it has solved; it has stopped the practice of blocking a player going for a return pass but it has led to constant debate and ridicule during this year's championship.

Conor Lane did a good job in the drawn game. Why should he be automatically changed? A ref should only be switched if he made a mess of a game. Another great GAA tradition that should be scrapped. If it was decided to change referee then the two best are David Coldrick and David Gough. Deegan is not in that league and it showed again on Sunday. Decisions which took too long, getting big and small decisions wrong, that was the result of an appointment which was unpopular with the players from the day it was announced. Players deserve the best referees for the big games and if that means the same referee for every final year after year then so be it. Mayo won't be saying anything but there is anger with the referee. If the first big call was made then it had repercussions for the whole match.

Losing Lee Keegan was another mortal blow. He has been the best player in this year's championship and did he deliberately drag down Diarmuid Connolly? He certainly fouled him. It may have been a yellow card but did not fall into the definition of what constitutes a black card. Just because a player ends up on the ground does not mean it is a black card. The consequences of this decision too were far-reaching. It gave Connolly a bit of space and robbed Mayo of their leader who was having a dominant influence on the game. Maybe the referees' assessor high up in the stand gave Maurice Deegan ten out of ten for his performance. Why are the assessments not made public so those of us who know nothing about the game could be educated by these experts?

When Mayo needed Aidan O'Shea most he again went missing. Perhaps we expect too much but he has come to the crossroads of his career. His positional sense was highly questionable. He should be playing in a central corridor but was too often on the wing or back in defence where his impact was absolutely minimal.

His turn and pass for the Keegan goal showed where he should be playing. He is the only one who can decide where his career is headed. As of now he makes a big impact on small games and a small impact on big games. For his own sake and the future of Mayo that trend must be reversed.

Yet when all the noise and debate is over the result never changes. There is little solace for the massive disappointment which impacts on all Mayo people all over the world, even if they admire the courage and bravery of their own players. The other reality is that Dublin are a brilliant team who have shown incredible durability and have passionate, brave, skilful individuals who are able to perform in adversity. That is why they are champions.

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