Dublin were the best team but they were also quickest to spot where the boundaries lay
Mayo needed to realise that if there was bullying to be done, they had to be the bullies
Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin is tackled by Micahel Darragh Macauley and Cian O’Sullivan of Dublin. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Mayo’s Alan Dillon loses possession under pressure from the Dublin defence
The first thing to say is that the best team won the All-Ireland. Dublin are the best team in the land bar none. Everybody had their day against them, everybody got a shot at taking them down and nobody succeeded.
On a basic level, they have the highest concentration of the best players in the country, all packed into the one team.
The top counties have a handful of players who would be considered among the best in their position in the country, but no county has as many as Dublin.
They have the best goalkeeper in Stephen Cluxton. They have one of the top three midfielders in Michael Darragh Macauley. They have two of the best half-forwards in Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly. And they have one of the best inside forwards of the past decade in Bernard Brogan.
At different stages of the championship, all five of those guys came through and led Dublin to victory. Add in the depth of their panel and that’s what wins All-Irelands.
At the heart of everything is Cluxton, who we can safely say is the best goalkeeper to have played the game. The confidence this guy has in his own ability is stunning. And the level of thought he invests in the game puts him so far clear of the rest. Moreover, it all comes back to his kick-outs.
Look what Dublin did to Aidan O’Shea on Sunday. If you’d been told beforehand that Cluxton was going to kick the majority of ball long, you’d have said there was a good chance of O’Shea having a big influence on the game. But he barely had any, purely because Dublin decided that to beat him they had to keep him running.
That meant Cluxton kicking balls into places where he would have to make 20- or 30-yard runs to get involved. O’Shea actually did pretty well for the first 15-20 minutes, but because of Cluxton’s influence he was out of legs by the second half.
That might sound like a simple enough strategy, but you can only do it if your goalkeeper is a good enough footballer. Most people reading this column know what it is like to kick a football. The most effective way of getting 60 yards (some 55m) of distance on a ball from the ground is to get under it and float it through the sky. But if Cluxton did that, he would have been giving O’Shea those extra few seconds to make up the distance. It would have defeated the purpose.
Instead, he had to strike across the ball to make it cut through the air. When you do that, the margin for error is reduced and if you aren’t good enough it means a level of accuracy is surrendered. But Cluxton missed nothing. Think about that. He wasn’t even aiming at a specific player but rather a patch of space into which they would run from 30 yards away. And he found his man every time.
This guy has changed football. How many players can you say that about? There’s no getting away from it. He’s removed high fielding from the game which, obviously, upsets me. And yet the way he’s done it is a joy to behold. Dublin’s players don’t have to catch ball above their heads because he hits them in the chest each time.
The goalkeeper was always the guy who wasn’t much of a footballer so he got thrown in goals at underage level. But Cluxton has turned that on its head. On top of his kick-outs, saves and organisation, he comes up the pitch and kicks crucial scores. He’s making it sexy to be a goalkeeper.
All the same, Mayo have to be disappointed with how they failed to turn the tide their way last Sunday. From where I was sitting, I thought they allowed themselves to be bullied. There were a couple of occasions where they didn’t seem to grasp the way the game was going and didn’t lay down the sort of marker required.