Saturday 18 August 2018

Comment: It might be harsh, but questions have to be asked about Mayo's bottle after another final defeat

17 September 2017; Mayo manager Stephen Rochford following his side's defeat in the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Mayo manager Stephen Rochford following his side's defeat in the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Paul Curran

It was magical mayhem in Croke Park yesterday as Dublin and Mayo produced the match of the year and arguably the match of the decade.

It had absolutely everything that is good about the game and both sets of players deserve so much credit for effectively giving us back our game.

The encounter crackled along from the throw-in but really burst into life at the start of the second half. And that second half of football will be remembered for a very long time to come.

I think both sets of players and management would have settled for a draw deep in added time but Dublin have become accustomed to finding a way to win the tight matches – a quality that most teams simply don’t possess.

How Mayo would love to have that asset over the years. But for some reason, they have really never been able to close the deal, despite the numerous opportunities they have had.

Call it what you like but there has to be a question mark about their bottle for the big occasion.

That of course may sound harsh but no other team gets to as many finals, only to lose them all.

Of course the Mayo players have been great ambassadors for the game and have given it absolutely everything in the last few years.

Yesterday was perhaps their greatest performance in a final but that will be little solace as they try and pick up the pieces yet again.

For Dublin, their greatness is unquestionable. This group of players have given us so much enjoyment in the last seven seasons and continue to astound us with their ability to play great football in the big games.

They have incredible self-belief.

You just know that when the game is in the melting pot that someone will stand up and drive it home and again it took an entire squad effort to finish the job.

Dublin now have won five of the last seven finals, four of the last five and an incredible three in row, which many would have thought impossible just a few short years ago.

When you look at the record books, the last time that was achieved was over 30 years ago by the great Kerry team of the ’seventies and ’eighties, who managed it twice with a four-in-a-row thrown in for good measure.

Before that, you have go back 51 years to when Galway achieved this incredible feat.

I have no doubt that there is still a lot more in this team and the quality and age profile of the squad should bring more all-Irelands in the coming years. For now though, they can enjoy the spoils of another great win.

So where was this game won, and in Mayo’s case, lost? When Mayo manager Stephen Rochford looks back on it he will identify some crucial game-deciding moments in the second half which hurt his team’s chances of winning the game.

On 43 minutes Jason Doherty had a point-blank shot saved by Stephen Cluxton when a goal would have put his team two points up. With the momentum that a goal gives you, it may well have allowed them to push on from that moment.

Just four minutes later and with Dublin a point in front, John Small picked up a second yellow card for a foul on Colm Boyle. Donal Vaughan lost his cool and took retribution on Small and in doing so, was himself sent to the line.

You’d have to think that  Cillian O’Connor would have kicked the sides level and Dublin would have had to play almost 30 minutes with a man less. That was a huge moment in the game.

Mayo kept coming, however, and led by two with just six minutes left in normal time. But they couldn’t manage to keep the scoreboard ticking and O’Connor missed a relatively easy free in injury time which would have put his team ahead.

At the other end, Dublin were looking dangerous with Connolly and McManamon providing the hard yards. It was Connolly who engineered the free at the death and I was delighted to see him figuring yesterday after the summer he has had.

It was also great to see Cormac Costello back on the field after such a long period without game time.

The three-in-a-row party is in full swing today and is set to continue long into this week. It’s a remarkable achievement for Jim Gavin and his incredible group of players and knowing Jim, he will be already thinking of different ways to keep the run going next year.

His ability to keep every member on script marks him down as one of the greatest managers the game has ever seen and some of the things he did this year were genius.

I think he felt, like every other Dublin supporter, that his team were being unfairly treated, particularly after the Connolly affair, and he certainly created that edge.

It is a glorious time to be a Dublin supporter. David Hickey told me in 2011 that Dublin would win five-in-a-row and while that hasn’t been achieved, the team have been able to manage five out of seven.

There is still time, of course, to achieve an elusive five-in-a-row and I wouldn’t put it past this group of players.

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