Monday 20 January 2020

Eamonn Sweeney: Mayo must beat Dubs to keep us interested

Dublin's utter dominance this year is hard to stomach with football crying out for a Séamus Darby moment

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara wheels away after scoring his side’s second goal with Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan looking forlorn on the ground. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara wheels away after scoring his side’s second goal with Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan looking forlorn on the ground. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Dublin are both the best thing in the football championship and the worst thing for it. That's why we need Mayo to beat them in the All-Ireland final and salvage not just this sorry season but the very idea of the championship as a viable competitive entity.

The men in green and red have done a bit of rescue work already this year. Take them out of the 2017 championship and highlights would be few and far between.

On September 17th they must play the game of their lives not just for their own county's sake but for the sake of Gaelic football as a whole.

There were times in yesterday's metropolitan mismatch when, as Dublin played keep ball in their own half with the result a foregone conclusion, we seemed to be witnessing a ghastly rehearsal for some dystopian future. Is this how it's going to be from now on? Dublin going clinically through their 'process' with the opposition helpless to intervene? Say it ain't so, Mayo.

Fourteen years ago another semi-final involving Tyrone was infamously described as 'Puke Football'. Yet yesterday's game was in its own way just as disheartening.

You could even call it Puke Football Mark II. This may seem unfair to a Dublin team whose instincts are positive and generous. But we don't always puke out of disgust. Sometimes a surfeit of good things can have the same effect. The utter dominance of Dublin so far this year has been hard to stomach. Seldom has such an exciting team been so boring to watch.

There was an uncanny similarity between this walkover and the one several hours earlier in Las Vegas. After all the predictions that the outsider's mad-bastard intensity might somehow produce an upset, logic reasserted itself pretty quickly.

Like Conor McGregor, Tyrone were left flailing wildly at an opponent they couldn't lay a glove on and like Floyd Mayweather, Dublin didn't rub it in but remained in total control all the same. They also looked like they were playing an entirely different game to the losers.

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Dublin endured both a 10-minute spell and an eight-minute spell without scoring, not because of Tyrone's defensive rigour but because the All-Ireland champions seemed content to knock the ball harmlessly around like some performance-art troupe recreating the famous Leeds United string of passes against Southampton in the seventies. Before even half-an-hour was up, the Hill had let loose a barrage of those mocking yelps you usually only hear when a team is keeping possession in the final couple of minutes.

Yet despite these lapses into lassitude Dublin still managed to put up 2-17. Three other gilt-edged goal chances were denied by the woodwork, the Tyrone keeper, and a sudden rush of blood to the head of the otherwise flawless Jack McCaffrey. The 12-point winning margin was grossly flattering to Tyrone.


This was one of the great one-sided semis, to rank alongside Kerry's 5-14 to 0-7 evisceration of Monaghan in 1979 and Cork's 1993 5-15 to 0-10 cakewalk against Mayo. The gulf in class between the two teams gave it an odd retro feel.

For all the greatness of that Kerry team their dominance eventually had a demoralising effect on football. By 1982 as they went for five-in-a-row only 17,523 fans turned up to witness their semi-final victory over Armagh. Five weeks later along came a stocky substitute from Rhode. Now football needs Mayo to be Séamus Darby.

Because if Dublin make it three-in-a-row and five out of seven, let alone manage to go through the entire campaign without facing a proper test, the football championship will start looking a bit like the Scottish Premiership. When the best-supported and resourced team moves so far ahead of the opposition that their victory is inevitable before a ball is kicked, it might be fun for their fans but it's hell for everyone else. The last thing Gaelic football needs is its very own Celtic.

Mayo must prevail in the final because there could be no greater end-of-season downer than seeing a team which has endured one of the longest and bravest championship runs in history lose a fourth final in seven years, the third on the trot to the same opposition. A Mayo victory would make this the most special of years, a Dublin win would render it crushingly mundane.

Dublin under Jim Gavin have been great for football. The view after Donegal won the All-Ireland under Jim McGuinness was that the game was destined to become more and more negative and that tactical sophistication consisted of an inexorable journey towards some kind of defensive zero point. Dublin have journeyed in the other direction and it was notable how old-fashioned they made Tyrone's blanket defence look yesterday.

Mickey Harte had come up with an answer to a question Dublin weren't going to ask. The gorgeous long-range points the champions summed up yet again that, modern though Gavin's approach is, there is plenty in his team to delight the purist. Football owes Jim Gavin a lot. But it can't afford another Dublin victory. They're too good to be wholesome.

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