To win just once would be enough seems to be the overwhelming feeling in Mayo this week. To say I’m sick to the pit of my stomach is somewhat of an understatement. I fully know what the players, management and their families are feeling, there is no word to describe it, it is the closest feeling to losing a loved one. In time it will heal but now the game is being dissected by everyone, even people who know nothing about football, that is the nature of the beast. I have no doubt the players are dwelling on decisions they made during the game, the management are wondering whether they made the right calls even Joe McQuillan will be feeling a little dire and maybe he should.
I made it publicly known that Mayo would probably need a 9 or 9.5 out of 10 performance to win the All Ireland ( something like the performance against Donegal ) realistically a 6 or a 6.5 would have seen them over the line. That is why it hurts so much, to play so poorly and still only lose the game by a miserable point. I still haven’t found out from Cillian O’Connor what McQuillan said to him before he took his last free, surely it was in the line of “Yes there will be time after the kick out”. If he told him this is the last kick of the game, he had to go for goal. Any keeper (never mind the best in the business ) with half a brain will take as long as he can to restart the game with his team a point up and if McQuillan let Cluxton run the clock like I think he did, I wouldn’t be letting him ref any more big games. This was just a small part in the complex jigsaw that contributed to Mayo losing another All-Ireland.
In my estimation five or six of the 20 players that took part last Sunday will be content with their performance; you can’t win matches with that statistic. Our forwards and midfield did not play up to par. Our defence played out of their skin and despite Ger Cafferkey having a good game, Bernard Brogan ended up scoring 2-3. Robbie Hennelly pulled off some brilliant saves but deep down he’ll be wondering why he wasn’t smarter off his line for Dublin’s first goal. He should have sent the ball and Bernard Brogan into the Cusack stand or else just stayed on his line and let Ger Cafferkey grapple with Brogan. That goal couldn’t have been scored at a better time for Dublin, They were struggling and Mayo should have been more ahead when it was conceded and the momentum completely swung and despite Mayo not clicking up front we were a point ahead at half time. I couldn’t believe the amount of players ( on both sides ) who were gasping for breath in the first half, the heat may have been a factor but big occasions like this can literally take your breath away.
You may as well forget about having a powerful midfield when Stephen Cluxton is playing. It’s not as if we weren’t warned, time after time he found a Dublin player in acres of space from the kick out. I’m still confused why we let it happen. If you see the Dublin players clearing out of an area en masse somebody take the initiative to stay put as it’s highly likely that is his destined target and on several occasions a Dublin player picked up a cheap kick out and set up their attack from there.
Jim Gavin would have been well aware of the threat of our half back line and the powerful aerial ability of Aidan O’Shea so he quite simply tried to curb their involvement in the game. Paul Flynn sacrificed his attacking game to marshal and stop Donal Vaughan by whatever means necessary and Cluxton just didn’t kick the ball out near O’Shea. Despite playing so poorly in the second half we got a huge bonus when Andy Moran goaled to put us back on level terms. Enter Denis Bastick (only on the field ) to rip through our defence and set up Brogan for a tap in to put the game beyond our reach. Dublin struggled for the last 14 minutes with two injured players on the field but they were cynical enough to stop any potential Mayo attacks. I’m convinced if Lee Keegan scored his chance in the 63rd minute Mayo would have won the game. Keegan, Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins left everything they had on the field. We will be wondering forever what might have happened, wondering why Alan Freeman was taken off, wondering why we never saw Richie Feeney but right now I’m wondering what Joe McQuillan said To Cillian o Connor before he took the last free.
What a superb victory and display by our minor team, this will be as good as it gets for most of them and when the final whistle went and the “Green and Red of Mayo” bellowed over the speaker system, it raised the hair on the back of my neck. Heartiest congratulations to Enda Gilvarry and James Mitchell. I spoke to James in the city west on Sunday night and he said he wasn’t happy with the teams performance, lord knows what they’d be capable of if that was a bad performance. I fully expect a few of them to get strong over the winter and force their way into James Horan’s plans for next year. To both teams, you gave us many happy memories in 2013.