The Championship

Kevin Madden: Dublin used their options off the bench better than Mayo

 Mayos keith higgins and seamus o shea dejected after the final whistle in Croke Park. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

This replay had unbelievable drama and everything you would ever want in a sequel. But in the end it was no surprise that controversy and heartbreak would greet a Mayo team who once again refused to have their spirit broken. In the end Dublin had the luxury of bringing two former Player of the years from the bench along with some young lad Costello who kicked as many points in 15 minutes as any other player managed combined over the two games. Here are my top five talking points:

1) Better scoring options on the bench proved crucial for the Dubs 

Dublin ultimately had better options on the bench but they also used it much better. There were big calls made by Jim Gavin to drop Bernard Brogan and Michael Dara McAuely but the impact of Brogan and in particular Cormac Costello gave them an edge that won the game. The timing of their introduction was also critical. Four points from the bench was some return but equally as significant was the fact that it was their last four scores when others around them were out on their feet. This edge in the forward department came at a stage when Mayo were relying on free kicks to keep them in the game. Michael Dara set-up two of those scores and added more energy to Dublin going forward. Ultimately, in such a knife edge game the bench was the difference that took Dublin over the line. Another massive plus was the unerring contribution of Dean Rock from both frees and play. Eight first half points was some return. For Mayo, Barry Moran should have been on much earlier. Tom Parsons was out on his feet in the dying moments and gave the ball away cheaply on two separate attacks in injury time as Mayo probed for an equaliser. Alan Dillon and Conor O'Se added some energy to the attack but unlike Dublin, Mayo had no great scoring threat to come on and change the game.

2) Big calls in terms of black cards had a huge effect 

I don't agree that John Small should have been red carded for attempted striking. But I do feel that he should have been black-carded for a hand trip that was more of a black than Lee Keegan's haul on Diarmuid Connolly. By the letter of the law the other Black Cards were justified although once again the flaw was there for all to see. Was Lee Keegan's pull on Connolly any more cynical than what Small did or any worse than Bernard Brogan's arm drag that threw a Mayo player to the ground? The subtle difference was that Brogan managed to remain on his feet. But one incident that was largely overlooked was Philly McMahon's foul on Aidan O'Shea after sixty minutes that should have been a penalty. As O'Shea gathered possession with his back to goal McMahon went to ground on his knees and wrapped his arms around O'Shea. My understanding is that when tackling another player you must remain on your feet otherwise it's a foul. Because O'Shea wasn't threatening the goal the referee chose to ignore what was a blatant foul.

3) Caught out by goalkeeper switch 

I still can't get my head around the decision to change goalkeepers.

Of course had Mayo won the game it would have been hailed as being courageous and clever but for me the risk outweighed the potential benefit. David Clarke was having a fantastic season, playing with great confidence and reliability. He had already the experience of the first day behind him. On the other hand, previous All-Ireland finals had been a bitter experience for Rob Hennelly. In the 2013 final he made two errors on high balls that handed Bernard Brogan two goals. Kennelly may have offered more distance on his kickouts that Dublin would have failed to plan for but when it comes to your keeper you have to think safety first. His handling error that lead to him conceding the penalty made it a three point game and gave Dublin some much needed breathing space.

4) Change of strategy arrived too late for Westerners

I had hoped going into this game that we would see Mayo adopt a more daring attacking strategy that would involve Barry Moran starting at full forward with Aidan O'Shea playing in beside him for a time. Unfortunately it was the 54th minute before we saw the big Castlebar man introduced and in that last twenty minutes only twice was it kicked in long. On both occasions Philly McMahon hit the panic button. On the second one, he could do nothing other than go through the back of Moran to concede the free that brought a point between the teams. Had the Mayo management shown a little more adventure in that department they would have asked harder questions of the Dublin fullback line. Dublin has chances to put the game to bed. Early in injury time, Michael Fitzsimmons should have had proceedings wrapped up but chose to feed the ball to Bernard Brogan instead. Patrick Durcan was superb and relentless to the very end for Mayo as he won the chance for Cillian O'Connor to equalise. It was cruel that the man who rescued them the first day would miss the free to bring the game to extra time. But of equal significance was the kickout right after the missed free. Mayo had put the full squeeze on to deny the short so Cluxton had to go long. Mayo needed that possession but Ciaran Kilkenny pulled an almighty fetch over the top of Tom Parsons. The loss of Lee Keegan was insurmountable as his attacking threat in the latter stages would have proved so valuable for Mayo. For everything that has been written about both men and all their intense rivalry we got to see a beautiful piece of sportsmanship and respect between Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly moments after the final whistle.

5) Mayo put it up and died with their boots on

For Mayo, they left absolutely everything out there. When your team crosses the white line your underlying hope is that they come off the pitch with absolutely no regrets. Mayo did more than that. They backed up their physicality from the first day managing to ramp it up another notch. On many occasions when it looked like the game was getting away from them, they stood tall and broke the Dublin momentum. With nothing left to give, Mayo died with their boots on.

Eoghan Rua Coleraine are running a unique fundraiser called GAA memories that has gone viral on Facebook in the last week. Funny stories were shared by some as others managed to write a homage about themselves that would go close to rival one of Brendan Crossan's great boot room tributes, as photos and videos from every game they ever played in were attached. All good fun of course, but it got me thinking about the journey that has led Dublin to true greatness and four Sam Maguire's in six years. When we think back to seven or eight years ago, Dublin were a media hungry self obsessed group who consistently fell on the sword of individualism. You had forwards blowing kisses to the hill, and the ideal of the team was a foreign concept. Dublin's success has been built on a massive change in their culture. For what this Dublin team have achieved they won't have to shout anything from the rafters or convince anyone about their legacy. It's is already written for them. Back to back titles, beating Donegal Kerry and a savage hungry Mayo team along the way, they deserve all the plaudits that come their way.

The Championship

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