All the pre-match signs were saying: ‘This is Mayo’s time.’ The Dubs had yet to be challenged in the championship and Mayo had hit form at just the right time. So what reasons did the sporting gods now have for denying the Westerners the Holy Grail of Men’s Gaelic Football?
On the basis of the first half, there were none. Mayo spooked an undercooked Dublin by upsetting their kick-outs that were so solid throughout the championship. They did this by simply crowding out the halfway way with midfielders. Unlike most of the thirty-two counties, they were a match for the Dubs physically and aerially.
Inexplicably, the Dublin defence panicked. They were retreating from relentless Mayo runners, spearheaded by Aidan O’ Shea. The Dublin boat was kept steady by one on one, individual tackles that prevented Mayo from genuinely threatening Stephen Cluxton’s net. The other factor for Dublin was that their attacking game was as deadly as ever. In the first half, Dublin scored the only goal of the half. The opportunistic nature of it, the exploitation of a howler in the Mayo defence, showed the unrivalled ability of Dublin footballers to read the game.
In the second half, however, Dublin came out with their heads screwed on. They set about decreasing Mayo’s possession stats by compensating in order to match the West of Ireland outfit for numbers in the midfield and, as clichéd as it may sound, they upped the intensity defensively. Dublin, like Kilkenny in their glory days, always appear to play on the edge of the law. In a very cynical way, it worked from a Dublin point of view it worked.
For one thing, Mayo lost their heads in the endgame. Passing inaccuracy increased and wides often occurred when Mayo were in dire need of alleviating pressure. Mayo were also giving up possession to Dublin that bit more easily than in the first half. Ultimately, however, it was Mayo’s discipline in the endgame that cost the Westerners. In particular, the Vaughan red card, borne out of a silly retaliation to a Dublin foul that had occurred seconds before.
In the end then, Mayo will realise, then, that they still have much to learn. It is a testament to Dublin’s calibre as champions that they won an All-Ireland football final despite being far from their best.
Conor Lynott – Sports Editor