Sunday 18 February 2018

Eugene McGee: Drawn match was no ordinary contest but atmosphere didn't transmit to viewers

'The point scored on the run by Cillian O’Connor in the 77th minute is entitled to be ranked with the greatest points scored in an All-Ireland final' Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
'The point scored on the run by Cillian O’Connor in the 77th minute is entitled to be ranked with the greatest points scored in an All-Ireland final' Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Going out and about last week in several locations in the midlands, I was struck by two things in particular about the All-Ireland final: the people who watched the Mayo-Dublin encounter on television kept saying the game was a very poor exhibition of football and they were disappointed, but the people who were in Croke Park had a totally different summing up of the game.

They all said to me that this was a massive sporting contest, a war of attrition between the two best teams in the country, neither of whom was prepared to give an inch in pursuit of victory and it provided spellbinding stuff for the entire 77 minutes.

I found these reactions peculiar because in my opinion games watched on television generally seem better than when one is in attendance at the game. Television sanitises a lot of the action as viewers only see the majority of the play in the immediate vicinity which is covered by the cameras and often do not see personal battles in the same way.

People at the games on the other hand are able to see clearly what led up to a particular event, how it happened in real time and, very importantly, what took place after the immediate action had unfolded.

And the big thing television coverage, for all its entertainment value, cannot match is the atmosphere in the Croke Park stadium. This is where last Sunday week's game scored very heavily. So many unexpected things took place in the Mayo-Dublin game that the 82,000-plus attendance was soon caught up in a cauldron of bizarre happenings and they hardly ever got a chance to settle in, relax and enjoy the game.

Because this was no ordinary game, even if it was an All-Ireland final. Once the first Mayo own goal arrived in the eighth minute, every non-Mayo supporter and possibly many of them too said to themselves: 'Ah here we go again, typical Mayo football, masters of self-destruction since 1951'. And yet some of the Mayo faithful and followers were still happy enough because the goal took place so early in the game, the second own goal arrived just 13 minutes later.

By then the atmosphere around the stadium was like I never witnessed around the place in my lifetime. There has never been two own goals in a final as far as is known and there was a loud murmur running around the ground that you seldom hear as thousands and thousands started chattering out loud to themselves about the sensational things they had just seen. But when Mayo wiped out the Dublin half-time deficit of five points in as many minutes the atmosphere around Croke Park changed dramatically. Mayo fans rose to their players to a man and woman and a massive sporting contest emerged for the rest of the game.

Ten scores to five by Mayo shocked everybody in the ground, especially Dublin with Hill 16 fans being noticeably toned down and the tension was ratcheted up by the minute. The Lee Keegan/Diarmuid Connolly scraps became like child's play by comparison with the personal fair duels elsewhere around the field and I have rarely seen such a ferocious contest between the game's top players for such an extended period.


Of course it was not classic football, the conditions decreed that, but the ferocity of the contest, all manly and fair, showed the real heart of Gaelic football as a battle when it is played in the right spirit.

Television for once was a fairly passive bystander compared with what we witnessed in amazement in that second half and of course the drama would not have been complete without a massive finale to match what went before.

The point scored on the run by Cillian O'Connor (pictured) in the 77th minute is entitled to be ranked with the greatest points scored in an All-Ireland final and maybe it was good that the final whistle went then because many of the crowd would not have been able to take any more drama.

The players and management deserve the thanks of the country for showing just how powerful football can be when played like that. For the moment at least we can all wash our mouths of the pathetic, tactical mish-mash masquerading as the great game in recent years. Now let us see how many other managers and players can provide sport like that final gave us! And hardly a whinger in sight other than the anti-black card brigade.

The weather forecast will be watched eagerly in Mayo this week. They will be happier with another wet day. Dublin will crave a dry day. It's in the lap of the gods!

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