Joe Brolly: 'Mayo played the game with proper championship attitude...it was men against boys'
There is a billboard campaign for a Donegal bus company which runs as follows: The rain is coming down so hard you can just about see two shapes, both wearing yellow raincoats. It is a mother, pulling her son behind her through the deluge. The mother says ‘Would you hold your whisht son. It's only a lock of water.' Underneath, the tagline reads ‘TAKE THE BUS'.
For a county famous for rain, the Donegal team looked as though they had never played in the stuff before. They slipped and slid and gave away possession easily and hand-passed the ball behind each other. Going back to the Rory Gallagher era, they refused to kick-pass the ball, instead moving the ball forward and backwards slowly and without imagination through the hands, slipping and fumbling as they went.
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This exhibition of footering was borne of a lacklustre mindset, with Donegal's players — save for Michael Murphy — looking surprised by Mayo's strong tackling. Donegal scored two points from play in the first two minutes of the game, and for the rest of the half were a complete embarrassment.
For the second game running, Jamie Brennan made no impact, unable to win the ball or to do anything productive with it. Paddy McBrearty had taken 12 shots from play in the Super 8 before this game, scoring just five of them. In Castlebar he was at his pot-shot worst, shooting repeatedly without looking.
In the Kerry game, Michael Murphy carried Donegal, strongly supported by Ryan McHugh and the keeper Shaun Patton. Here, he looked for support, but no support came. So, he was forced to do it all alone, and in the end, this was beyond even his powers.
In contrast to Donegal, Mayo played the game with proper championship attitude. This was obvious in their strong tackling, their accurate kick passing, the fact they were constantly ahead of their men in the race for the ball, and the way they won possession crisply and securely.
Their first-half goal was fortunate, a miskick from Jason Doherty ballooning over Paddy McGrath and gifting Cillian O'Connor a very easy goal. But in truth, Mayo should have been out of sight by half-time.
Patton set the tone. From his first touch, he went on a mazy, half-hearted solo-run out to the 45, before being dispossessed. NOTE TO ALL KEEPERS. If Stephen Cluxton doesn't do something, then don't do it.
A minute later, from his first kick-out, he kicked a kamikaze short one to Cillian O'Connor, who delayed too long before hand-passing it inside to Darren Coen, who put his head down and drove it at Patton. This ought to have been a goal, but it set the atmosphere for the game and that atmosphere never changed.
In that first half, Mayo turned Donegal over in possession 16 times. Donegal, meanwhile, won only six turnovers. Donegal scored their last point from play of that first half in the second minute, meaning a full 35 minutes without a score from play.
The pattern resumed in the second half, with a fearful and hesitant Donegal maintaining respectability on the scoreboard thanks to Murphy and thanks to some terrible shooting and bad decision-making by Mayo, who will know they could and should have won this game by at least ten points.
Over the course of the entire game, Mayo put in 66 tackles winning 24 turnovers and thoroughly demoralising all of Donegal's forwards bar one. Donegal put in only 38 tackles, which tells you all you need to know about their respective levels of commitment.
It was men against boys for the whole game. Donegal's heart was tested by the Mayo men, and they failed the test. Donegal's last quarter performance was a study in panic and the associated every-man-for-himself-syndrome. 54th minute: Ryan McHugh kicks an impossible pot-shot high up into the air. 56th minute: Michael Langan kicks another pot-shot wide. 58th minute: Paddy McBrearty kicks another (to add to the two he'd already kicked in the first half). 60th minute: Oisin Gallen, who is simply not strong enough yet to tangle with these Mayo men, blasts another howler. 61st minute: Michael Murphy kicks what is for him a comfortable free into the Mayo keeper's hands. 63rd minute: Michael Murphy launches a terrible pot-shot under pressure. 65th minute: Michael Langan potshots again. 67th minute: Another McBrearty potshot. 72nd minute: a terrible wide from Leo McLoone from 14 metres.
This was a period when Donegal — with any composure — could easily have won the game. In the 51st minute, Murphy scored a belter from play which left the score Mayo 1-9 to 1-8. Instead of screwing their courage to the sticking post and playing calmly, they wasted oceans of possession with the panicky aerial bombardment described above.
Murphy gave them another lifeline, this time in the 68th minute, when he scored another rip-roaring point from play (he finished with 1-4) but his team-mates were mere spectators by that stage, and a courageous but jittery Mayo added the last two points. Donegal by this stage were reduced to kicking hopeless high balls in on top of Murphy, who was surrounded in the manner of the CIA smothering the US president when a gun shot has gone off.
Mayo were the better team, but ended up scrambling by Donegal in a game they lorded, by reason of their fighting spirit. On several occasions they made poor decisions, botching great goal chances. They took 28 shots from play, registering only 11 scores (1-10), a truly horrendous statistic, equating to 39 per cent efficiency.
Compare this with Dublin, who are routinely above 85 per cent efficiency. Mayo also lost almost 40 per cent of their own kick-outs, which against the Dubs would spell disaster (and did spell disaster against Kerry). But the thing is, there is only one Dublin. All the rest, as we saw in Castlebar, can beat each other on any given day.
Perhaps this was why there was such a mighty victory roar in Castlebar after the final whistle. A victory roar that is normally only heard after an All-Ireland. Everyone else is playing for second place, and they know it.