And breathe. There is no word in the English dictionary to describe what went on last Sunday. Mayo produced their gutsiest performance ever to snatch a draw against raging hot favourites and current champions Dublin in Croke Park in the All-Ireland final. The tone was set long before throw-in as the teams entered the field. I happened to be on the sideline doing a piece with Radio 1 as I watched Stephen Cluxton lead his team out to a deafening roar. I was left stunned to see Cillian O'Connor burst out the tunnel through the Dublin players, followed closely by Aidan O'Shea and the rest of his team mates. Misinformed initially, I was told Mayo lay in wait for Dublin to ruffle their feathers. The reason for this coming together was the fact that Dublin were meant to enter the field at 2.56 and Mayo at 2.58. This clash occurred at 3.02.
Standing your ground
I could only imagine the blood boiling in the Mayo dressing room as they waited to be told when they were allowed leave their dressing room, they were not going to let Dublin dictate their day. It was like being in front of a herd of raging bulls. I tried to stay composed as I was live on the radio but I couldn't help noticing Aidan O'Shea and Kevin McMenamon and a few Dublin players go at each other while still running on the field. There was no malice, just men being men and holding their ground, bowing to no one. It wouldn't have been pretty had Mayo elected to do their warm-up at the Hill, thankfully they didn't but they certainly laid down an early signal of intent; we will do whatever is necessary to win.
Never say die
As a spectacle the game was incredible from the start to finish. Defensively it was as good as we have ever seen a Mayo team play, and I include our midfielders and forwards in those defensive duties. Just think of the six starting Dublin forwards and how prolific they have been over the years. Not one of them troubled the umpires for the first 30 minutes. It was astonishing, although Brian Fenton did sneak in twice only to be denied by two brilliant David Clarke saves. You couldn't have envisaged the two Dublin goals. One own goal is extremely rare, two in a few minutes in the all-Ireland final is a one off that will never happen again and, of course, it had to happen to Mayo. I felt sorry for Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle. Instinct made McLoughlin stick his leg out when the ball was running harmlessly wide. Boyle's momentum made him half volley the ball into his own net past a stunned David Clarke when Dean Rock upset a sublime pass from Diarmuid Connolly. Had Rock done what he was supposed to, Boyler and Clarke would surely have wrapped him up and cleared the ball.
In a first half that Mayo completely dominated we found ourselves five down at half time. I was in shock, why us? Stories of the curse of 51 were widespread in the press area. I was sick to the pit of my stomach, I wondered how the players felt. Mayo had to do to Dublin what Dublin had done to Kerry in the semi-final and reel in a five point deficit. They set about it straight away and picked them off one by one to draw level with scores from Andy Moran, Patrick Durcan and three from Cillian O'Connor. The Mayo support responded in kind. It was such a heroic effort. No one had ever done this to this Dublin team. The tension all around the stadium was unbearable. Dublin went ahead again yet Mayo hauled them back, thanks to Alan Dillon who took a nasty knock after a collision with Cian O'Sullivan. Mayo’s goose looked cooked as Dublin went three ahead entering the 70 minute mark. David Clarke’s kick out hitting the back of Diarmuid Connolly who slotted over for one of them late Dublin scores.
Cillian showed true leadership
Our time was surely up when things like that happen. Cillian O'Connor and Donal Vaughan reduced the deficit to one with two minutes of the seven injury time to be played. Dublin got a line ball on the Hogan Stand side half way between the 21 and the 45 yard line. Ciaran Kilkenny wanted to go short, keep possession and win his team the All-Ireland. Diarmuid Connolly had different ideas. He wrestled the ball from Kilkenny and tried to steal the headlines, he over-cooked his effort and kicked it wide. From the resulting kick out Mayo raced up the field through Tom Parsons and Aiden O'Shea. When in a time of need get the ball to your sharp shooter, O'Shea picked out Cillian O'Connor on the loop who fired over an unbelievable equaliser. The drama wasn't over yet.
Cluxton in turn restarted the game with a rapid kick out to Denis Bastik on the 21 yard line. Bastik clearly picked the ball off the ground before he was clattered by Evan Regan. Mayo should have had a 21 yard free to win the All-Ireland but referee Conor Lane gave the free to Dublin for Regan’s tackle. It was manic at the end. Cillian O'Connor remonstrated vigorously with the ref as he had clearly seen Bastik pick the ball up illegally. I couldn't take any more, the final whistle came in time. I was relieved we were still in it.