GAA Football

Mayo equally deserve a tag of greatness

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea dejected after his team's defeat to Dublin in Sunday's All-Ireland final. Picture by Seamus Loughran

“If the Kerry team and the Mayo team were lined up on a cliff and you said ‘The first 30 men to jump win the All-Ireland’, they would be gone while we were still considering it.”
David Brady, House of Pain

CONSIDER the same question now, 11 years on, but turn it on its head. The first 30 men to throw the men staring at them from the other side over the cliff win the All-Ireland.

Other than Dublin, Mayo, Kerry and Tyrone, the rest are driving around cursing at their Sat Navs looking for the damn cliff.

Kerry would still throw you over it in a heartbeat, but they lack the muscle or the subtlety right now.

Tyrone might stand 15 feet back from the cliff and hope you fall over it yourself.

But as for Dublin and Mayo, it’s always been a serious arm-wrestle between those two.

The pre-match narrative was surprising. There was a sense that Mayo would do well to compete with one of the greatest teams ever to have played the game, despite a library of evidence that it would come down to a photo finish.

Was it that they didn’t have it deep down in their soul to throw Dublin over the cliff? Or was it that they wrestled with all of their might, tried every stroke in the catalogue, and just lost their footing when all Dublin had left on Sam Maguire was the trace of their fingernails?

With a different bounce of the ball, this Mayo team could have had not one, even two, but three All-Irelands.

Sunday will gnaw at them harder than any of the others. In the analysis of who was the better team, most seemed to fall on the side of the victors.

The quality of their attacking options were the mask that fell over it all, though. Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn did very little off the bench but the same could not be said of Kevin McManamon or, albeit to a lesser extent, Diarmuid Connolly.

But there was an economy of ease about their scores that contrasted with the constant rock breaking that went on at the other end.

Mannion, McCarthy, Rock, they ghosted and weaved and sliced. O’Connor and Moran and Doherty grafted and crafted and fought.

The two currencies added up to the same for 75 minutes and it was Mayo that had the better chances to take the strong hand.

Donal Vaughan might never get over the rush of blood to the head. Getting a straight red card in an All-Ireland final is criminal in most circumstances but for men like Tony Davis in ‘93, there is at least the disclaimer of not deserving it.

Vaughan can apply for the same status but the needlessness of his actions mean it may not be granted. A very scoreable free conceded by John Small, who would more than likely have been given his second yellow even in the absence of a scene.

Surrendering that scoring chance in a game that they knew would come down to margins finer than the paper this is printed on was the real crime.

Mayo fronted up all afternoon. They crashed through Dublin’s Alcatraz, the Cluxton kickout, and razed it to the ground. Lee Keegan did what he’s done to some of the best forwards in the game, putting a complete lockdown on Ciaran Kilkenny.

Andy Moran proved that age is but a number as he produced a lifetime best against the previously dominant Dublin defence, aided by Aidan O’Shea’s intelligent roving to pull Cian O’Sullivan out.

Cillian O’Connor had a massive second half. But in the end, it was like the scene in The Dark Knight, with the convicts in one boat and the great and good of Gotham in the other. O’Connor was handed the detonator to blow Jim Gavin’s three-in-a-row dream apart but he just couldn’t bring himself.

It is not a softness in the head. It couldn’t be. Not at this stage. Not having dragged themselves off this magnitude of hurt six years in a row – or 66 years, depending on which way you want to look at it.

They have proven themselves at every turn to be every bit as good as this Dublin team. Just as technically gifted. Just as fit. Just as strong. Just as prepared to win.

Lee Keegan throwing his GPS tracker was the last genius act of desperation. Dean Rock has this kick and you know he’ll score it. You know it’s over if he does. You would try absolutely anything you think you’ll get away with. Was it really any different from the common practice of running past the kicker roaring at him just as he makes contact?

That was the ultimate sign that they were prepared to do anything they could to win this All-Ireland. But Dublin were just that little tiny bit stronger, perhaps mentally more than anywhere else.

There’s an implied criticism in that but Dublin’s mentality is just astonishing. They never panic. Five down in last year’s semi-final against Kerry, they stuck to the process. It might bore the life out of us to hear Jim Gavin say it aloud but their patience and composure is why they are three-in-a-row champions.

The victors have always produced the scripture and thus it shall always be. But is a tag of greatness equally dependent on success?

This Mayo team deserves to be called a great team. No Mayo team has ever given their county five straight Connacht titles, nor taken them on such consistent and repeated journeys.

Even when those journeys end in the very iciest chambers, they all go away and warm themselves to clamber back aboard in January. They will be back out in their thousands in Castlebar in January for the FBD League, because that is what they do.

No team in the history of Gaelic football has ever displayed resilience on this scale. The pains they’ve suffered and come back from six years on the trot were at the least debilitating. For most others they would have been terminal.

There’s a difference in not having it in your gut to throw Dublin over the cliff, and simply not being able to no matter what you throw at them.

Is this Mayo team any lesser than Derry of ’93, Armagh of ’02, than Donegal of 2012 (whom, lest we forget, they hammered twice and outplayed for two-thirds of that final), or even their own team of 1950 and ’51?

Dublin may go down as the greatest team ever but when it’s all said and done, even the absence of that final victory shouldn’t detract from how Mayo are represented in the scripture, for they are a truly great team too.

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