Legacy, in time, will matter to the Mayo players
XAVI Hernandez has always been a football romantic. The former Barcelona midfielder was the man who coined the phrase: “The result is an imposter in football.”
For the man who won everything at club and international level Xavi believed there was something more important than the result.
Legacy, he argued, was infinitely more virtuous.
Speaking to journalists in 2011, he reflected on Barcelona’s bitter Champions League semi-final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side the previous season.
“Last year,” he said, “we were better than Inter Milan – but we did not win. There’s something greater than the result, more lasting. A legacy.
“Inter won the Champions League but no-one talks about them.”
Likewise, everyone still talks about the 1982 Brazil team.
Losing to Italy in the knock-out stages remains one of the most painful defeats in the history of the World Cup finals.
Years later, Brazil’s manager Tele Santana took great solace in the fact that his team was more fondly remembered than Italy, the eventual winners of the ’82 finals.
Thirty-five years on, football supporters could name more of Santana’s Brazil team than Enzo Bearzot’s Italy side.
If only Cerezo’s errant pass across the Brazilian defence wasn’t intercepted by Paolo Rossi the tournament could have experienced an entirely different ending.
If only Cillian O’Connor’s late free from under the Hogan Stand last Sunday avoided Dublin’s left-hand post at the Hill 16 end and breezed over the crossbar, Mayo would have been crowned All-Ireland champions for the first time since 1951.
Everyone - even Dublin supporters - knew that Dean Rock's last-gasp free would sail over Mayo's bar, regardless of Lee Keegan's GPS mobile being flung in the Dublin free-taker's direction.
Mayo, the vanquished, had the sympathy of a nation.
This brilliant Dublin team are the great unloved of their generation - not only for denying Mayo’s All-Ireland dream in dramatic circumstances but because of the considerable financial advantage they boast over the rest of the country, illustrated so graphically by freelance journalist Ewan McKenna on All-Ireland final day in The Sunday Business Post.
This kind of narrative is especially harsh on players such as Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion who have lit up this year’s Championship.
In Dublin’s pursuit of excellence they have demoralised the rest of Leinster, turned it into a ghost-town where other counties can’t wait to hit the All-Ireland Qualifier road.
After his side had famously swept aside Monaghan in last year’s All-Ireland Qualifiers, Longford boss Denis Connerton acknowledged: “For Longford, the Qualifiers have always been very good to us.
“We seem to have great difficulty winning matches in Leinster and then you’ve got that looming Giant in Leinster also – Dublin.”
The best entertainment of this summer was indeed to be found in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
One of the most enthralling games I covered was on a baking hot Saturday night in Mullingar.
With roughly 8,000 supporters crammed into Cusack Park, Westmeath and Armagh served up a dramatic game.
The football wasn’t great – at times it was downright poor – but the drama of the night consumed everyone, with Armagh living to fight another day.
In Castlebar, Derry so nearly knocked Mayo out of the Championship.
If only they had a bit more finishing quality Mayo wouldn’t have entertained us as they did against Clare, Cork, Roscommon, Kerry and Dublin.
Carlow left their mark on the Championship too, while Monaghan took the scenic route after being dumped out of the provincial series so unexpectedly by Down.
Markievicz Park witnessed the night when Donegal imploded against Galway while Armagh would were involved in a couple of thrillers against Tipperary and Kildare.
Meanwhile in the capital, Dublin were flawless in scything their way through Leinster. And that was part of the problem. They were just too damn good.
Prior to their Leinster semi-final clash with Westmeath, The Sunday Game Twitter account put out a tweet about whether or not there should be a ‘B’ Championship, knowing full well that the Dubs would win by a landslide and therefore the outcome was sufficient justification for a Sunday evening debate on the TV.
The bigger debate, however, has always been the runaway train that is Dublin football and the lack of investment in other parts of the country by comparison – and the lengths to which Mayo, Tyrone and Kerry have gone to try and keep up with the Sky Blues.
Up until last Sunday’s All-Ireland final, Dublin were an entertainment-free zone.
Nobody was good enough to test them, apart from Mayo.
That’s why Mayo will be remembered as the ones who brought joy into our living rooms for weeks on end.
For years to come, we will remember Andy Moran’s bravery and brilliance, Chris Barrett’s defiant roar, the indefatigable Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle’s rage and Lee Keegan’s finishing.
Dublin made history - but Mayo were the story of the summer.
For them, the result was an imposter last Sunday.
They won the hearts and minds of everyone outside the capital.
Talk of legacy will mean absolutely nothing to the likes of Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran right now.
But, in years to come, when all the Dublin and Mayo players who played last Sunday are long since retired and medals are stored away in boxes in attics, legacy is all that they'll be left with.
And that will sustain and nourish them as people.
Indeed, the Mayo players will look back on the summer of 2017 and say - that was living.