Wednesday 13 December 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Humility, grace and generosity sum up this great Dublin team

Goalkeeping call another own-goal gift to Dubs that will haunt Rochford and his backroom team

Seamus O’Shea tries to shackle Cormac Costello, but the Dublin substitute’s introduction in the second half turned the tide in his side’s favour. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Seamus O’Shea tries to shackle Cormac Costello, but the Dublin substitute’s introduction in the second half turned the tide in his side’s favour. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The old order restored. The conventional wisdom is that when champions and hot favourites get a second chance they will be able to make the small adjustments necessary to get them over the line. And so it turned out even if it was like Waterloo, a close-run affair. Dublin have again cast Mayo into this state of constant disappointment for nothing more than being the better team when it counted most, in the final quarter when almost all big games are decided.

The big question for the Dubs coming into this game was whether they could match the controlled fury that Mayo would bring. That fury in the drawn game had meant that Dublin lost many of the individual battles as Mayo players put themselves about without any concern for personal safety, health or wellbeing. Once Dublin had signalled early on that they were willing to fight fire with fire it meant that eventually their superior forwards would grab enough scores to steer them home. Getting into that mental zone is not easy but once there, hard knocks, fitness, and every other worldly consideration become lost in the great battle for supremacy.

Dublin did not have to win this match to be deemed good, great or fantastic. They have won four Leagues on the trot, every Leinster championship and now are kings of the hill again. Winter, summer, fall make no difference - they are truly men for all seasons. They manage to find a way to win almost all the time, patience, experience and confidence in each other have all been learned on the hard road which has brought endless riches in terms of success and trophies captured.

This spell of domination has not been marked by ego, brashness or any outward shows of superiority. Rather it has been words like humility, grace and generosity which have summed up Dublin. It reflects well on the Dublin management, the players themselves, clubs, schools but even more importantly the sense of values which has come from home.

Mayo went into the cool night and were thankful for the darkness for some anonymity. Everybody rains on their parade. It was not through lack of effort, fitness or organisation. They just met a slightly superior force in the field and there is no shame in losing, even if that is completely hollow in the context of Mayo's past. Going back to club football now is the every last thing anyone of them want but there is balm for old wounds in getting back in a club jersey.

The post mortems begin and probably end for Mayo with the goalkeeping change. Quite why this was made is hard to fathom and there was no obvious reason for it. Dropping a goalkeeper is not like leaving off an outfield player; David Clarke did not deserve the demotion and there was no tactical benefit either. It was a spectacular own-goal. Stephen Rochford had overseen a quiet Championship campaign and would not look as if taking major chances were part of his being. Yet this will haunt him and his management team for a long team.

In the end Dublin limped home; the champagne football which has characterised the last few years was absent. This was a Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Dublin's changes at the start were no less dramatic than Mayo's but when an outfield player does not perform it does not send the shivers through the team quite like the Cul Baire. As it was Bernard Brogan came on and scored, something he did not look like doing in the first game. Yet the game was decided by the sub who looked as if he had dropped off the face of the earth.

Cormac Costello seemed to have become the forgotten man of Dublin after blazing a trail with underage teams. Now in a moment of great need and with the rest of the forwards struggling, Jim Gavin turned to the forgotten young man and he did more than anyone else to deliver the All-Ireland.

Three points from play was enough; he should have had another but passed to a marked Brogan. Costello turned the tide in Dublin's favour after Mayo kept coming back even after the Diarmuid Connolly penalty which would have destroyed most teams.

Mayo were short of forwards and relied heavily on Patrick Durkan and Kevin McLoughlin to get forward. They played like warriors, as did Keith Higgins, but the loss of Lee Keegan was immense after a brilliant goal in the first half. He had decided to attack more this time and it paid off but there was one tangle too many with Connolly, yet it must be galling that John Small remained on after the most obvious black card.

This was a poor Championship with awful football; Dublin have been the best team since January, the only saving grace could have been the romance of a Mayo win but that seems as far away now as ever. Dublin are worthy champions even if the wear and tear of years on the road has taken that something special, which they used to have, away from them.

Some of the younger players became leaders: one soaring catch from Ciaran Kilkenny springs to mind. This day looked set up for Brogan to come on like the matador and finish off the job. Instead in the setting sun Costello stole the show.

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