And so another All-Ireland against Dublin ended with a crucial kick from the man whose sublime finish had us back here in the first place.
A point here from Cillian and we’d have had two more periods during which these two evenly matched teams could pick at each other.
I still recall in my dreams his last ditch shot in 2013 when he slotted it over the bar. In the dream, he shoots low for goal and glory.
It disappointed then.
Today, there was more disappointment.
It was a tough shot.
Near from where Joe Canning rescued Galway a few years ago.
Everyone waited and expected.
Even Jim Gavin.
“Cillian has been in exceptional form all summer so we expected he would slot it over and we just prepared ourselves for the next play. In that situation, that was all we could do,” he said afterwards in the bowels of the stadium that had rocked for two cracking games between the sides.
“Mayo have been an exceptional side. They tweaked what they were doing in mid-season and they improved defensively, to the extent that all there was between these two great teams was a kick of a ball,” said the Dublin boss, glowing in the aftermath of a successive title win.
Never the most expansive after the victories of his team, Gavin played down his own role in the victory.
“We just had a job to do and that was to get our group to be the very best and if you collect a few bits of tin along the way, then it’s a good day’s work.”
Oh, what Mayo would give for just one of those bits of tin — yet again they came so close but were never convinced that they would be able to close the deal. The missed free at the end was reminescent of our more wasteful days.
It was always going to take something special to stop this expensively-assembled Dublin team on their 29-game unbeaten streak, yet we go away from Croke Park this evening thinking that a certain amount of this defeat was self-inflicted.
It seems that the one team Mayo have to overcome is Mayo itself.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the move, the decision to change goalkeepers seemed strange.
Manager Rochford said that it happened because their analysis showed that Robbie Hennelly’s kicks would give them greater length and range.
“We did our analysis on Dublin in the first game, pushing four guys inside, and as the game developed in the drawn game, they were getting more comfort and more reward. It was probably something they were going to try in this game and if they combatted that more in this game, Robbie’s kicks would give us a bit more length and a bit more option.”
However, he refused to be drawn on whether the strategy worked or not.
After a pause he said “in some cases, maybe it did, but I’m not thinking through every kickout now at this moment to wonder about that.”
The refereeing too was something he would not condemn, especially the strange decisions not to penalise John Small early on, and the later black card for Lee Keegan.
“Referees are in a tough position. The margins are tight. Every ball is being fought for as if it was the last kick of the game. The surface was greasy. In the referee’s defence, from his angle it might have looked like Lee’s a deliberate pulldown. In fairness, Dublin lost Johnny Cooper as well, so I’m not complaining. That game could have been won for us, black cards or no black cards. We just fell a little bit short.
“I’m extremely proud of my players. They used up every sinew of their energy and to lose by the smallest margin makes it hurt a little bit more. We had a free to draw the game and if that had gone over, we might be still be outside trying to decide this one. For now, we’ll see what the future holds and move on and regroup.
“I’m not sure if we hit our full potential over the two games. We made mistakes and Dublin made mistakes,” he said, before departing crestfallen, dejected and heartbroken.
And so another winter begins with disappointment, although among supporters outside, there was great pride that a team written off in mid-summer would go on to give Dublin their biggest test of the year.
At least now this winter, there won’t be the drama we had in late 2015.
The fans will be back next year, and every year until this ‘bit of tin’ is won.
Optimism for next year will be high because we are undoubtedly the second best team in the country.
But the desire for a Dublin ‘three-in-a-row’ will equal whatever desire Mayo have to end what will be a 66-year wait next year.
But bring it on, bring it on.
The journey continues.
Keep the faith…and keep it country.