Brendan Crossan: Dublin were vulnerable
UPON leaving Croke Park and making our way to the dusky environs of Clonliffe College to reach our car, the dominant feeling was Dublin were vulnerable.
Yes, they were five points down to Kerry at half-time of their All-Ireland semi-final.
Yes, they pulverised the Kingdom in the closing stages.
Yes, their bench had a soul-destroying impact on the Kerry defence.
Yes, they out-scored Kerry 0-6 to 0-1 in the final 10 minutes of a barnstorming encounter.
So what is there to doubt about this great Dublin team?
When they build up a head of steam they attack like the Brazilian soccer team of ’82.
We in the media like strong narratives.
Throwing a magnifying glass over the small detail can sometimes disrupt our flow, our rhythm in telling the nation in unambiguous terms just how great Jim Gavin’s Dublin team is.
And they are a great team. After all, they’re unbeaten in 28 League and Championship matches.
Maybe the thrust of this column is to find fault with Dublin.
And maybe this Mayo team are of equal standing to this Dublin team.
I ventured onto Twitter before last Sunday’s gripping All-Ireland decider between Dublin and Mayo to vote Mayo. It’s fair to say my sanity was questioned for such a daring act.
Hyperbole often accompanies strong narratives. Consequently, Dublin entered last Sunday’s final, in many people’s eyes, as an unbeatable force.
Mayo fitted the familiar stereotype: All-Ireland Championship final fodder.
John Morrison is a wily old fox. John assisted Mickey Moran down in Mayo in 2006 where they toppled the Dubs in an epic semi-final. A few weeks later, Mayo collapsed in the All-Ireland final against Kerry.
John remains an avid watcher of all things GAA. He listed five factors why Mayo could beat Dublin.
John was on the money with four of them.
Where his theory fell down is where many theories fall down: that uncontrollable variable called luck.
Two first half own goals suggested Mayo would not get lucky in the 2016 All-Ireland final.
At half-time on Sunday, we had Sky Sports’ forensic analyst Jim McGuinness talking and believing in the supernatural and the desperate ‘curse’ of Mayo in
All-Ireland finals. Joe Brolly likewise on RTE.
More intriguing than talk of the supernatural denying Mayo their first All-Ireland title since 1951 was one of the points John Morrison articulated in the interview.
Rather than paraphrase, here’s John’s exact words.
“They had Pat Holmes as manager last year but the players decided Pat wasn’t good enough to take them to a senior title. Technically, they got rid of him, which meant there was a lot of rancour and ill-feeling and the perception that the players shafted their manager.
“The way I look at is, it has brought them together because they’ve accepted their responsibilities on trying to win the title.”
You can argue over the merits of how Holmes was treated – but Morrison’s point is entirely valid.
Accepting responsibility is easier said than done – but it’s a huge undertaking by the Mayo players and illustrates their determination to win an All-Ireland title.
The new management team has ensured that every box has now been ticked in Mayo.
This group of players didn’t need another Connacht title this year.
That wasn’t one of the boxes that needed ticked.
The All-Ireland Qualifier route was probably the only road for Mayo to travel in search of the game’s biggest prize.
On so many levels, their one-point victory over Tyrone in last month’s All-Ireland quarter-final was Mayo’s most impressive performance in recent times.
It was most impressive because it was so unMayo-like.
That day, Mayo showed they could play another way, more conservatively, that they were versatile, that they could match and overwhelm Tyrone.
Last Sunday, Mayo were tactically sound. Their defensive match-ups were faultless.
During the game, the right defensive switches were made before anyone in the press box had time to criticise them for not making the switch.
It wasn’t just the rain that curtailed Dublin’s much-vaunted forwards; it was brilliant defending.
We all know how good Lee Keegan is – but Brendan Harrison and Patrick Durcan are slow-burners among the public.
They are equal, if not better, than anybody wearing sky blue.
Mayo have the managerial nous. Man-to-man, they are as good as Dublin and, crucially, they have incredible character. Alan Dillon has lost four All-Ireland finals.
And yet the Ballintubber clubman is still there, banging on the door and hitting nerveless points in pressure moments. Likewise, Donal Vaughan, Andy Moran and Jason Doherty.
If Mayo are to be successful in next weekend’s replay they need Aidan O’Shea to banish the memory of his second half display and rise when the big moments call him.
For all of Dublin’s attacking power, Kerry – a lesser team than Mayo – should have beaten them in their semi-final clash.
In the 48th minute, Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper left Jonny Cooper on his backside after a wonderful dummy but the great man’s shot dropped short and into Stephen Cluxton’s grateful arms.
‘Gooch’ would normally convert those chances with his eyes closed.
Had it gone over the bar, it could have had a demoralising impact on the Dubs who were already on the ropes.
After Longford had beaten Monaghan in this summer’s All-Ireland Qualifiers, Denis Connerton’s words on the Leinster Championship were revealing
“We seem to have great difficulty winning matches in Leinster,” Connerton said, “And then you’ve got that looming giant in Leinster also – Dublin.”
That kind of fatalism doesn’t reflect well on all the other counties in Leinster.
Indeed, it feeds the myth that Dublin are unbeatable in their own province and beyond.
This prevailing attitude within Leinster doesn’t serve Dublin well either.
They stroll through Leinster. They beat Donegal and Kerry, two teams with high mileage and all of a sudden they’re unbeatable.
And yet, all we’ve read and listened since Sunday’s drawn
All-Ireland final is that Dublin won’t play as badly again and Mayo have missed the boat.
This post-match analysis sounds all a bit too nonchalant to be believed.
The evidence is staring us all the face. Mayo to win the replay.