Thursday 19 April 2018

Dick Clerkin: Mayo needed a Seamus Darby moment - it didn't happen and maybe it never will

Jeff Stelling and Chris Kamara in their commentating position with the help of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and our own Dick Clerkin. Photo: Sportsfile
Jeff Stelling and Chris Kamara in their commentating position with the help of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and our own Dick Clerkin. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

They have only themselves to blame - the harsh, but true assessment on Mayo from Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, my esteemed companion for yesterday's thriller.

Joining Sky Sports Soccer Saturday icons Chris Kamara and Jeff Stelling for the final leg of their AIB hit series Journey to Croker, we were both in agreement that Mayo, again not for the first time, shot themselves in the foot as they cruelly fell short yet again in their quest for Sam.

I am not afraid to admit that I have become something of a Mayo fan this summer, and cheered every score, and cringed after every miss, as if I was born and bred in Ballina.

Mícheál must have wondered what was wrong with me at all. Christ, I got so excited, I think I could have even elbowed him in the ribs when Lee Keegan scored that goal.

Jeff and 'Kammy', only recently introduced to our wonderful sport, were blissfully unaware of the pent-up passion and anxiety among Mayo followers throughout the stadium.

But trying their hand at commentating on Ireland's sporting showpiece, they became engrossed with the intense thriller unfolding.

As word spread about the novel commentators' presence in the Upper Hogan Stand, the selfie-stalkers quickly made their way to our section. I was the unwanted child in our quartet. At half-time as the crowd descended on the amiable soccer duo, I quickly realised I was only getting in the way of the celebrity hunters. Even poor Mícheál realised he needed some fresh air and went for a cuppa.

It was hilarious watching some of the purist GAA journalists stare back in disbelief at the goings-on.

Setting aside the novel distractions, I was privileged to spend a few hours in the company of GAA royalty. I couldn't resist delving into Mícheál's vault of GAA knowledge. His first final was back in 1949, when Meath beat Cavan by four points. An astonishing 61 years later he finally handed in his mic after Cork beat Down in 2010.

Asking him what was the best game he ever commentated on, the 1982 thriller when Offaly upset Kerry's bid for five in a row, unsurprisingly sat top of the pile.

"Mayo could do with their own Seamus Darby moment today," I quipped, praying that Lady Luck would finally smile on my adopted county.

As we sat back to watch events unfold, we agreed that not for the first time in their ongoing saga, Dublin were there to be taken by Mayo. But only because Mayo, unlike any other team in recent times, showed the guts and bravery necessary to take them to a place they seldom visit.

As I predicted, Aidan O'Shea roamed the middle third, and he can be satisfied that he put his All-Ireland day hoodoo to bed with a heroic display.

Yet for all of Aidan's and Tom Parsons' influence, Brian Fenton and James McCarthy were able to chip in with critical scores that the Mayo duo couldn't replicate.

In many ways that battle reflected the difference between the teams. Mayo always seemed to have to work so much harder for everything, whereas Dublin could rely on a greater efficiency of effort. Dublin's skill again trumping Mayo's sweat.

Chances similar to ones Cillian O'Connor missed, Dean Rock nailed.

As the intensity rose to unbearable levels in the stands, Jeff and Kammy in front of me were engrossed in the game. At one stage however, in his typical Soccer Saturday excitement, Jeff referred to Diarmuid Connolly as 'the 'Derminator'. He nearly got a programme across the top of the head from both myself and Mícheál for that one!

I said at the start of the year that the lack of a marquee forward would be Mayo's ultimate undoing.

Andy Moran scoffed at everyone's talk of his demise, to take up that mantle as Mayo's summer resurgence brought them within touching distance of the promised land yet again.

At half-time yesterday, with another three points from play to his name, he was en route to the Player of the Year award.

All indications suggest that he picked up an injury that curtailed his movement in the second half. His influence was still crucial, however, as he set up both Jason Doherty and Lee Keegan for goal chances.

Cruelly for Mayo, only the latter showed the composure needed on the big stage. Sadly my forecast would eventually be proven right, as without Andy's influence up front in the final quarter, Mayo lacked that point of attack that had been so vital for them all summer.

With nobody to take his place, Mayo were bereft of a forward outlet going down the winning straight, whereas at the other end of the pitch Chris Barrett et al had to fight like lions to try and stem the movement of the rotating Dublin forward line.

In the end, the lions were run into submission.

And Connolly would have the final and most decisive hand (from play) of the season. Sensing victory, he summoned all the freshness that his summer break afforded him to run hard one last time at the Mayo rearguard, thus drawing a foul that Rock punished.

The sense of anti-climax at the final whistle was palpable. Mayo supporters' tears have run dry at this stage. Empty expressions, with a mixture of disbelief and abject defeat, is all many of them could muster in the aftermath.

As the curtains came down on an epic afternoon's entertainment, the Soccer Saturday duo sat in awe of the spectacle they had witnessed.

Before the next wave of selfie-hunters descended upon us, we chatted briefly as to the winning and losing of the game. I couldn't hide my disappointment for Mayo. We were all in agreement that Dublin had the better players, and made better choices when it mattered.

"Mayo's Seamus Darby moment never came, Mícheál," I remarked to the legendary commentator before we shook hands and parted ways.

And I am not sure now that it ever will.

Irish Independent

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