Sunday 26 January 2020

Comment: Gavin hits jackpot while Rochford's Hennelly gamble backfires badly

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea falls to the ground under pressure from Dublin duo Phily McMahon and Mick Fitzsimons. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea falls to the ground under pressure from Dublin duo Phily McMahon and Mick Fitzsimons. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Eugene McGee

There are many black moments for players who have just lost and All-Ireland final but one of the worst is when they wake up the following morning.

Defeat in a final at any time is brutal but to lose a final that lasted around 160 minutes by one single point from a total score of 65 points really twists the knife.

That is the lot of Mayo now and it will take tremendous inner fortitude from the players to survive and prosper in the coming 12 months.

I often wonder does the general public ever understand the ferocious demands on the mental capacity of players who have to withstand a loss such as Mayo's? So far these lads have shown exceptional bravery and resilience for the Green and Red.

One great thing about the GAA is that hardly ever does a winning team or individual gloat over their beaten opponents, and I am certain that is not the case for anybody in the Dublin camp.

I have never, in a long number of years, seen two more ferocious encounters in the space of 13 days at All-Ireland final level as these two Dublin-Mayo matches.

They were astonishingly physical encounters, almost completely within the rules and they were carried out by a whole series of warrior-style heroes from both counties. We had marvellous personal battles, huge physical confrontations, great scores from play and frees and inevitably loads of controversy - in essence we had the perfect compilation of events for a glorious scenario.

But of course the harsh reality of all sport, that we must have a winner, hits everybody smack in the face and this is what the Mayo players and management are grappling with.

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And as time passes and the Mayo group go back to their private lives they will think hard and long about what might have happened both days. But the one theme that should dominate their thinking is that Dublin were marginally better team over the two games.

In particular, as I have mentioned all year, Dublin have perfected the art of winning tight games, or at least not losing them.

Mayo had at least as many opportunities to win on Saturday as Dublin, right up to the closing minutes. But they scorned several chances.

In the 54th minute, Mayo switched Barry Moran and Aidan O'Shea into the full-forward line, both well over six foot, presumably to direct high balls into the danger area - but outfield players sent in hardly any such high balls. That was an elementary mistake.

So too was the changing of the goalkeeper for the biggest game of the year, something for which manager Stephen Rochford is being blamed but surely the other selectors, Tony McEntee, Donie Buckley and Sean Carey had a communal input into the decision?

Jim Gavin dominated every aspect of this game to add to his stature as a manager. His team selection was spot on, particularly putting in Paul Flynn in midfield, where he could supervise what was going in that area.

Gavin's use of subs Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley and Cormac Costello likewise paid off, while the selection of hitherto largely ignored Michael Fitzsimons in the full-back line was a masterclass in ingenuity.

Mayo must face the harsh reality that they do not have as strong a panel as Dublin, no more than any other county.

After all, the current Footballer of the Year, Jack McCaffrey, was sitting in the Hogan Stand on Saturday, fit and well. Could you imagine that happening in any other county?

This game was the tensest encounter I have seen for many years. With Dublin ahead by two points in the 70th minute the Hill seemed to be in a state of suspended animation at the thought of a Mayo goal spoiling the party.

The undoubted drama and excitement in both games should not disguise the many errors made by some of the leading performers. Bad wides or short score attempts from James McCarthy, Aidan O'Shea, Ciaran Kilkenny, John Small and Conor O'Shea among others for example.

Some players on both teams have still to prove their title of 'great' in my opinion. Only Patrick Durcan got more than one point from play for Mayo, who only managed two points from play in the first half.

And Dublin fouled 28 times to Mayo's 17, food for thought maybe!

But we were all privileged to witness two titanic struggles for which all the players and managements should be thanked. Sometimes we take such things too much for granted.

PS In Longford GAA circles we are accustomed to clutching at straws so it is only right I should point out that the only county to beat Dublin in 2016 is Longford, who defeated them comfortably in the O'Byrne Cup in January. So there!

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