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Dillion’s departure a sad day for the GAA

Veteran Mayo forward Alan Dillon has announced his retirement from inter-county football. I’m not usually one for sympathy, as life will always bring setbacks and it’s how you react to them that will define you, but it is impossible not to feel sorry for Dillon.

He was in six Mayo panels who ended up on the losing sides in All-Ireland finals. He played in five All-Ireland finals and lost all five. It could have been all so different for the Ballintubber clubman, had a kick of the ball gone his way throughout his career. He never struggled at provincial level, picking up eight Nestor cup titles during his time as an inter-county player.  His Mayo side could never go that extra step though, and win the one All-Ireland Championship him and his comrades so badly craved.

His first All-Ireland final in 2004 ended in defeat. Mayo were comfortably beaten by a Kerry side, who would go on to dominate for the remainder of the noughties. Dillon had a great game on the day and was Mayo’s top scorer, scoring 1-2 throughout the course of the game. His next appearance came in 2006. After defeating Dublin in a thrilling semi-final encounter, in what in my opinion was one of the greatest games of football of all time, Mayo would definitely have fancied their chances of putting it up to Kerry on the big day.

As it transpired Mayo were humiliated. Two early goals from Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy set the Kingdom on their way to a 4-15 to 3-5 victory over a hapless Mayo outfit. A few barren years transpired under John O’Mahony, but Mayo were rejuvenated again when James Horan took over in 2011.

In 2012 Mayo were back in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. After overcoming the Dubs, they would have really fancied their chances of overcoming Donegal led by the mastermind that was Jim McGuinness. In what was becoming an unfortunate trend for the Westerners, they flopped completely on the big stage, especially in the first ten minutes. They put up a great fightback, but the damage was already done.

Michael Murphy scored a goal after two and a half minutes, which was followed up with Colm McFadden’s effort minutes later. Donegal led from start to finish, as Sam made its way to the highlands. After three final defeats surely Dillon was feeling disgruntled and fed up?

Not so. Mayo came back again in 2013 and were set to face Dublin in Jim Gavin’s debut season. Dublin again emerged victorious by a single point, as they would in the 2016 and 2017 deciders. How frustrating must this have been for Dillon and his teammates?

In 2014 in the semi-final, Kieran Donaghy saved Kerry after coming off the bench. Donaghy caught the ball, fed it to onrushing forward James O’Donoghue who buried to the net, to break Mayo hearts. On the second day, Mayo would definitely be right to feel aggrieved at a number of Cormac Reilly’s refereeing decisions, as Kerry emerged victorious after extra time. Another heartbreak for Dillon and Mayo. This may well have been the one that got away, as having annihilated Donegal in 2013, Mayo would have fancied their chances of overcoming them as Kerry did.

In the last three years Mayo have played Dublin five times in the Championship. They have drawn two of those games and lost by a single point in two of the other 3, as Dublin went on to win three in a row. Mayo scored two own goals in 2016 and hit the post in the closing stages this year, whilst Dublin converted a free and played possession football to close out the game.

This Dublin side is amazing, but at this moment of time, Mayo are probably the one team capable of beating them, yet they always seem so near  yet so far. Something always goes wrong for the Westerners on All-Ireland Final day. Being from a county that has never won an All-Ireland, I’ll honestly admit if my native Westmeath were in an All-Ireland final, I would dream of facing Mayo. Having been unsuccessful on so many occasions on the big day, the psychological pressure on them must be immense when they do listen to the anthem on All-Ireland final day.

I’m sure there are fans of 30 other counties that feel the same. Alan Dillon is a legend in GAA terms, not only for his undoubted footballing ability, but also for his persistence and resilience, which is a common trait in this Mayo team. It is a shame he will never own a Celtic Cross medal and I really hope he will the last great Mayo footballer to retire without winning one.

Mayo are undoubtedly good enough to win the All-Ireland. Will they ever achieve it? I really hope so, as every single one of those Mayo players deserves it more than anyone.

CONOR MCKENNA

29Nov
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