What a game this was. What a pair of games in actual fact. I’ve always thought Mayo are one team who can rattle Dublin no matter what their previous form has been like, and this year proved no different. After the drawn match a lot of talk was of how much improvement the Dubs could make and how bad they played. They played as well as they were allowed to play as far as I could see, largely due to a massive effort by Mayo throughout the match. The bigger question was whether or not Mayo could not only replicate this intensity, but increase it. They certainly managed to do that. Everything about this game was improved from the drawn encounter. The quality of the football was better, there was some outstanding scoring, the 1st half goal from Lee Keegan the pick of the bunch, and the excitement and tension was massive.
Right from the throw in the Dubs flew into an early lead. They showed there was no drop in hunger whatsoever and they put themselves 4 points clear very quickly. Mayo were never going to let them have it easy though and the sides were back level after 12 minutes. From then on we saw two extremely athletic teams going head to head in a battle full of aggression, intensity, pace, courage and skill. Dublin got their noses back in front until that superb goal by Keegan. He showed why he’s probably the best half back, in fact one of the best players, in the game at the moment with his run from deep to get on the end of an Aidan O’ Shea pass and bury the ball in the corner of the net.
While I never thought this game was a particularly dirty one, when two teams go at each other with such intensity it would always be a difficult to get the balance right between letting the game flow and keeping it under control. As a result the first half also saw two black cards, one for each team, and we were probably lucky not to have seen more. There were other incidents between Donal Vaughan and Diarmuid Connolly, and John Small and Cillian O’ Connor. John Small can certainly count himself lucky for an earlier trip, while Johnny Cooper and Keegan could probably consider themselves very unlucky to have been the ones who were caught. Keegan was a major loss for Mayo, and this was a big turning point, but you can’t underestimate the effect Cooper’s absence had either. He’s been a top defender for Dublin all year.
The 2nd major turning point was Mayo’s 2nd black card, when a Rob Hennelly mistake early in the 2nd half gave Dublin a penalty and Mayo another black card. Dublin took the lead again and never looked back. Mayo of course made Dublin work for everything they got, and kept within touching distance for the remainder of the match, setting up a thrilling climax. The last 20 minutes were some of the most gripping of recent years. Jim Gavin brought on his secret weapon Cormac Costello, who had a huge impact, scoring 3 points in less than 20 minutes. With his help Dublin went 3 points clear again, only to be hauled back to 1 once again. At this stage, and after over an hour of a titanic struggle for both teams, there were missed chances on both sides. Mayo had opportunities to go level, Dublin squandered up to 5 attacks and chances to put some daylight between the teams. Neither team was willing to give an inch but the legs and minds were getting tired. Unsurprising considering the Trojan work that had been put in by both teams. Unfortunately for Mayo it was the last free that ultimately proved too much at the end. Cillian O’ Connor was lethal all day from placed balls, and it was heartbreaking for him to miss only one, but the one he’ll probably remember for a long time.
Dublin of course held on for a one point victory, retaining Sam for the first time since 1977. When you look at the age profile of this team, and the fact that they’ll probably have Rory O’ Carroll and Jack McCaffrey back next season, it seems that Dublin will be around for quite a while.
As tough as it is for Mayo to put so much into finally breaking the so-called curse and to come up short, I believe they will most definitely be back at the business end of the season next year. For a county that hasn’t won a senior All Ireland in 65 years, they must be one of the most consistent teams around, with the amount of final and semi final appearances they have in recent years. I know it’ll be a small consolation for them, but they have finished the season a completely different team to the one that stuttered their way to the final. They absolutely rose to the occasion and 100% deserved to be in there. In fact I believe that this Mayo team, playing the way they did, would probably have been good enough to win an All Ireland in a different year, they were simply unfortunate to come up against a Dublin team that’s probably the greatest ever produced in the county, at least in recent memory. To have only a point between the teams after 160 or so minutes shows how close the margins are at the highest level, and I think Mayo are too good to not make a big impact next season.
For Dublin though, it’s celebration time, they’ve more than earned it. To win beating Donegal, Kerry and finally Mayo, with each game presenting an even tougher challenge, must be incredibly satisfying, and they can look forward to a long winter before the challenge starts all over again next January.