Nearly everybody in the GAA is wise after the event, some are wise before it and — better still — there are a few players who are wise during the event.
erein lies the rub for Mayo. It has happened too often over the last few years that, with victory in sight, there were not enough wise heads to steer the ship home.
Maybe the work was not done either. After the success of pushing up on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs in the last quarter of the drawn game, the expectation was that there would be a full-court press in the replay. Instead there was a half-baked strategy.
With Cluxton it has to be all duck or no dinner. No point in expecting five forwards to cover. Cluxton is too accurate for that. The only way to do it is three lines of three and take a chance of winning the kick or putting immediate pressure on the man who receives the ball.
If the ball is not recovered within a few seconds, then a very quick resetting of the defence is needed. Like Gary Player said, “The more I practise the luckier I get”. Mayo did not have it practised enough or one man — and it only takes one man — did not do his job.
The other big mistake for Mayo was to allow Aidan O’Shea outfield with Philly McMahon as his marker. O’Shea should have been kept close to goal. McMahon is too mobile for O’Shea. The fact that he should not have been playing is immaterial now, but for me the worst incident of the two semi-finals was his headbutt, or attempted headbutt, in the drawn game. None of the Tyrone nastiness came near that.
In my time playing there were two things which I would feel honour-bound to respond to, spitting and headbutting. The response took the form of a straight right. If it entailed a red card then so be it. O’Shea should have done the same.
McMahon has a reputation as a hard man and he looks it all, plus he is a damned good footballer but O’Shea could have been a little less disciplined and nobody would have blamed him.
Anyway if he got a red card it would probably have been overturned and himself and McMahon would have been free for the replay. There are no suspensions anymore in county football.
McMahon could argue the facts were unproven and O’Shea’s argument would be that he felt he was in clear and imminent danger and was merely acting in self-defence. In the GAA world of Dodge City disciplinary bodies, there is never a case to answer. Only the mugs who play club football get suspended.
Dublin deserve great credit for recovering when on the brink. The James McCarthy point was the most important of all when they were four behind. From a point of panic there was calm and a succession of good passes created the room for McCarthy with a great cross-field ball from Kevin McManamon, the greatest sub since David Fairclough. Mayo were caught easily too with everyone sucked across the pitch.
It settled the Dublin team. Alan Brogan, Michael Fitzsimons and Michael Darragh Macauley also made big impacts from the bench. The last quarter was like the Dublin display against Cork in the league semi-final a couple of years ago. A full-on blitz. The only team it has not worked on has been Donegal, who were able to catch Dublin easily on the break last year. That issue now seems sorted with Cian O’Sullivan playing a holding role in front of his full-backs. His injury is a concern and Dublin would be a much lesser team without him.
Almost forgotten are Kerry who have better individual players than Mayo — even if it is hard to see any team with Mayo’s heart and bravery. Unfortunately, that is not enough to win All-Irelands.
Kerry are the masters of improvisation and will not be in the least concerned about what type of game the final turns out to be. Remember last year and the Kerry followers being delighted with the way they mugged Donegal at their own game? Kerry have lost two classics to Dublin over the last few years, a final and a semi-final.
They will feel that over the course of time they have done their duty to the game in terms of playing great football and giving men of great skill an opportunity to entertain. This time round, there will only be winning, whether rough or smooth. Last year the end justified the means.
A repeat would suit them fine.
Sunday Indo Sport