Another gut wrenching, shattering defeat

Cillian O'Connor of Mayo, left, is consoled by team-mate Lee Keegan after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo Sportsfile

Cillian O'Connor of Mayo, left, is consoled by team-mate Lee Keegan after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo Sportsfile

This one is hard to comprehend,very hard. Some are harder to take than others. This defeat is pretty difficult to take. Our 1996 loss to Meath is forever etched in my memory for all the wrong reasons, it's very similar to last Sunday.

I often think about things that happened in that game in 96', the 97' loss to Kerry, shattering but not as painful. I'd rather lose by seven points than the minimum. It means every mistake and decision is scrutinised. Dublin and Mayo are equals on the field, no question, there is nothing between the teams, the trophy cabinet says differently however.

Dublin have won four All-Irelands now in six seasons which is some going in fairness, pipping Mayo in three scintillating matches along the way to three of those titles. Mayo have nothing to show for their endeavour. In the four finals Dublin won, their cumulative winning total is only six points, that itself is an amazing statistic. They never dominated any final but they got over the line. They won three finals by a single point,(two against Mayo ) one final against Kerry by a point, and last year they defeated the Kingdom by three points. To say they have a knack of winning tight games is an understatement.

This final too will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Stephen Rochford made a big call before the game, dropping David Clarke from the Mayo goal and replacing him with Robbie Hennelly. It was going to take a rabbit out of the hat tactic to win this game, the Mayo management felt this was it.

It was known that Dublin had spent their two weeks between the drawn game and replay tactically planning on how to pressure David Clarke's kick out. I could only imagine the news filtering through to them that Clarke was being replaced. I felt sorry for Clarke, he did not do a whole lot wrong, but this was a tactical team decision and like the man he is, he took it on the chin.

Hindsight is a great thing. We can all look back now and wonder why the call was made. It's easy to do that. It could have been the master stroke that won us the All-Ireland, it turned out to be the opposite. I felt bitterly sorry too for Robbie Hennelly after the game, he's one of the good guys and I felt his pain there and then — I still feel it now.

The level of abuse himself and Rochford received was disgusting. Let those who have never sinned, cast the first stone. Let those who have never made a mistake be the ones to criticise. Both men are human beings with feelings, parents, siblings, and loved ones like the rest of us.

It's bad enough losing without having to endure a public slating from your own fans, the fans that had you on a pedestal a few hours beforehand. I have been there and have the T-shirt, it's not a nice place to be, support is what's needed, not insults and criticism. It will take a while but with the help of team mates and family they will get over it, they will come back stronger.

I'm proud of how Mayo fought to the bitter end. They are an unbelievable group of players. Had Cillian scored that last ditch free which was in the most pressurised cauldron you're likely to come across, I feel the Dubs would still have come out on top in extra time.

Watching the video again I'm sure of that. Mayo were out on their feet at the end because of their relentless pursuit of parity. On top of that two of our thoroughbreds Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan were on the sideline, guys who it seems, never get tired. It was the complete opposite of the drawn game where it was the Dubs huffing and puffing at the final whistle.

Jim Gavin made a few big calls that ultimately won his team their second Sam Maguire in a row. Michael Fitzsimons had the game of his life at corner back despite not being named on the team sheet; while substitutes Michael Darragh McCauley and especially Cormac Costello made very telling contributions — McCauley driving his team forward in the second half while Costello kicked three points after his introduction. In a tight game that is most definitely what you call a super sub.

Defensively Mayo were sound again, Brendan Harrison having a stormer at corner back while Patrick Durcan set Croke Park alight covering every blade at blistering pace and firing two fine points to boot. It's amazing, I was on a radio show with a guy who said Mayo had unearthed no new talent in 2016. We have two All-Stars in the making right there. Seamie O Shea and Tom Parsons worked so hard at midfield. O'Shea had a great game, his tackling and aggression set the tone for Mayo.

Up front it proved more difficult to find space. Mayo's starting six forwards and the three who came on only contributing three points from play which really is not All-Ireland winning standard. In the last 20 minutes Mayo only scored three points from the trusted boot of Cillian O'Connor from placed balls.

It amazing we were so close with stats like that. It was heart breaking to lose such a game, I still feel sick about it. I know how the players and management feel, a million times worse. I presume out of respect, county players representing their clubs this weekend will receive sympathy and support from everyone. They at least deserve that.

I would like to wish the best of luck to Sarsfields Shamrocks (an amalgamation of Charlestown Sarsfields and Kilmovee Shamrocks ) in the county minor A final in Elverys McHale Park on Sunday against raging hot favourites Castlebar Mitchels.


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