Sunday 18 August 2019

The most exceptional group of players to ever grace the game

Mayo were allowed to hope before being crushed mercilessly

Brian Fenton scores Dublin’s third goal in yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brian Fenton scores Dublin’s third goal in yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Mayo at Croke Park. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Just as well Dublin only played for the second half or this would have been a right massacre. In the first half they were tied up by Mayo and were a bit fortunate to get to the break only two down. They were outfought by Mayo, who engaged with unrelenting ferocity. They stripped the ball from Dublin frequently in the tackle and were calm and measured in their approach. This despite Robbie Hennelly giving the Mayo supporters the shivers on kick-outs and anytime he had the ball in his hands. The main Dublin players were being limited to bit parts. Paddy Durcan was magnificent and he had a whole posse of willing accomplices.By half time Mayo had also prevented Dublin from getting a goal, which is a necessity for any team with ambitions of beating them.

Half time was a needed break and a chance for the Dubs to restore calm. Jim Gavin fed all the information into the computer and it threw out three words: must work harder.

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The first ten minutes of the second half was vintage Dublin as they upped the intensity and everyone got to the pitch of the game. Hitting 2-6 without reply meant that the trains and buses heading west could all leave early. For Dublin, the rest of the match was merely playing out time and avoiding injury or a red card. The chances of getting a straight red are slim such are the discipline levels of this special team.

We had all hoped for another epic encounter and the first half promised much. For Mayo though there must be nothing worse than giving hope and then seeing it crushed mercilessly. The Dubs are good at that. So for many Mayo players who have been down this road on a number of occasions, the dream is over. They will be back in some shape or form and Mayo football is not all about their county team. It is about towns and parishes and villages giving a boost to community life through Gaelic games. That will still go on in this great football county.

What the Dubs are doing now is a scorched earth policy to all contenders. They are getting better and there is nobody emerging from the pack who might trouble them now or down the road unless Kerry become giants of the game again. Once Con O'Callaghan, Brian Howard, Brian Fenton, Jonny Cooper and Ciaran Kilkenny got to the pace of the game it was curtains for Mayo, nobody can shut out these talented players for a full game.

In some respects it is understandable that it took Dublin a while to get going. They have not had a hard match since the All-Ireland final in 2017 and in-house training matches are probably more competitive than what they have had for most of those two years. It is not five in a row we will be talking about but six or seven.

It would also be churlish to speak now about Dublin's resources or finances. This is an exceptional group of players, the like of which has never graced a football pitch before. They prepare properly and are ruthless in execution once they hit the pitch. Off it they are modest in nature and very aware of the their role in this great amateur organisation.

When Con O'Callaghan hit the net for the second time the air went completely out of the match and the familiar route home for Mayo became another reality. They fought hard but the system also betrayed them. Mayo had a ferocious battle last week while the Dubs rested the main artillery. How can this be fair? Even at that, and with the help of the rest of Connacht, it is unlikely Mayo would beat Dublin. The Dubs can be thrown off course for a while but they are a smart group who figure out another way to win.

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The hope now is that Kerry or Tyrone can throw up a worthy final opponent and that the big game of the year does not turn into another turkey shoot. On the evidence of ten minutes of total destruction their opponents may be whistling past the graveyard while trying to convince themselves of their chances. The Dubs' machine is in perfect working order, the rehabilitation of Diarmuid Connolly is complete with a late appearance as a sub. It may not have gone down well with Bernard Brogan or Eoghan O'Gara, who did not even make the bench, but the Dublin selectors are just as ruthless in doing their business off the field as the players are on it. The present and the future is all blue.

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