Sunday 25 February 2018

Eugene McGee: Mayo now have belief to cope with inevitable Dubs backlash

Kevin McManamon shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin after being replaced by Paul Mannion. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Kevin McManamon shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin after being replaced by Paul Mannion. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

A lot of widely-held beliefs were dispelled in this titanic struggle in Croke Park yesterday. Firstly, the notion that this Dublin side - already being mentioned in the same breath as Kevin Heffernan/Tony Hanahoe team of the '70s - was invincible... they didn't lose, but they hardly looked unbeatable.

And the 65-year-old mantra about Mayo teams lacking the killer instinct to win the All-Ireland was, if not shattered, then badly fractured.

So too was the image carefully created in recent years that Dublin were clearly fitter than other counties, had a more spectacular style of play than any other team and would always win games where there was a tight finish.

Instead what we watched yesterday was two very good teams with many flaws, and a draw in those circumstances was fair enough.

I should stress that this was a wonderful contest, despite all the errors from both sides, and referee Conor Lane gave a masterly performance of sensible officiating that enhanced the game and the excitement.

Some other referees would have blown every little foul and spoiled the game, but not Lane.

If Mayo do eventually lose out again this year, they will forever regret the concession of two own-goals - something that has hardly ever happened in an All-Ireland final in GAA history.


But they should forget about that because they took this disaster in their stride, and that was not the cause of their missing out.

Mayo's homework for this match was exceptional and was the reason for their relative success yesterday.

They had taken the measurement of most of Dublin's star performers, analysed their play and were ready for practically everything they had to offer, based on their play over the past few seasons.

As is always the case in these massive games, rocket science was not required, but instead enough Mayo players have been convinced by their mentors that with the knowledge they had acquired about how to handle the Dublin players, they were at the very least on a par with their vaunted opponents.

This is how it worked out on the field: not one of the big names in Dublin turned in a star performance, which was a huge tribute to Mayo.

Paul Flynn, Ciaran Kilkenny, Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly and others were at best just ordinary, but it is a tribute to Dublin's team organisation that they took control of the game in the final quarter in a way that seemed to be enough until Mayo came with a fantastic late surge to save the day.

The new rule which decrees that every substitution has to add on 30 seconds after the 70 minutes has become the single most critical aspect of Gaelic football.

In the semi-final, for example, Dublin and Kerry were level at 72 minutes before Dublin took over for victory.

Yesterday, 77 minutes had passed when Cillian O'Connor scored that magical equalising point, and apart from Mayo's joy, that left the top GAA officials swigging the champagne as they look forward to another €5m jackpot for the replay on Saturday week.

Unfortunately, because of the way sport goes nowadays, the pressure on Mayo will be even greater for the replay.

They have shown yet again, as I wrote last Monday, that they are virtually as good as Dublin - having beaten them in a semi-final and drawn last year at the same stage.

Dublin and Jim Gavin will see this replay as a massive opportunity to improve and as a test of their own character, and a lot of their players need to produce serious personal performances, as they cannot hope to get two goals scored by the opposition this time.

For example Dublin players can hardly make such a hames of easy kicking opportunities again as they did yesterday, from frees and open play.

It was hard to believe what we were watching in that regard yesterday.

Mayo lacked cohesion in defence on several occasions, particularly the own goals, but also in the second half at times, and some of their wides - such as Aidan O'Shea's wild kick near the finish - were shocking.

But then Dublin's stellar forwards kicked even more and worse wides all through the match.

Overall, though, this contest was a joy to watch for which both sets of players and subs must be congratulated, as the weather conditions were very poor for most the game.

The replay is a game to savour and yesterday's game showed that hard, competitive football as played by Mayo can still be a great leveller - no matter how highly their opponents are rated.

Irish Independent

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