Dublin deserving winners as Mayo can only blame themselves
Mayo must feel that their own game plan let them down
Dublin’s substitutes such as Eoghan O’Gara (above) made a big difference in the game. Photograph: Dara MacDonaill
When it came down to that final whistle, whether it was blown a little prematurely or not, there was no denying that Dublin were deserving winners of this All-Ireland, and yet Mayo must also feel that their own game plan let them down to the extent that it cost them the victory.
If the one lingering debate was whether or not Cillian O’Connor was right or wronged in tapping over that last free, in the 74th minute, well I don’t think Mayo have any excuse. To me O’Connor showed a little too much indecision anyway, because the clock was ticking down the whole time, and instead he was going talking to the referee, wanting to know if time was up or not.
What the player should do in that situation is tap the ball over the bar, as quickly as he can, and get on with in, or indeed decide to take his chance for a goal. But forget the chat, make up your mind quickly, and that’s why Mayo can’t blame anyone but themselves when the referee blew up when he did.
But that’s certainly not what cost them Mayo game: in the opening 35 minutes they just didn’t capitalise on their possession and scoring opportunities. Keith Higgins in particular was winning a brilliant amount of ball, proving a vital cog in their game, with some scintillating runs, and they certainly had Dublin on the back foot for the opening 20 minutes.
Mayo started brilliantly all over the field, but against a team like Dublin, you need to be registering the scores. At times they soloed the ball too much, or just found it too hard to penetrate the Dublin defence.
All of a sudden, and I could hardly believe my eyes, they started firing in these high, speculative balls into the inside forward line, expecting players like Andy Moran to be winning them, even though he was nearly always being double-marked. With that it soon became apparent that they were not registering enough scores to give them the footing they needed at that stage of the game.
The old saying about goals winning matches proved true too, and hats off to Bernard Brogan, who proved himself yet again capable of being that right man in the right place at the right time. Having said that, I do feel his first goal was more self-inflicted by Mayo.
But what really won this game for Dublin, yet again, was the strength of their bench. If anything Jim Gavin couldn’t get his five substitutions on quick enough, although in the end he nearly paid a price, as some of the injuries started to mount.
Tactically, every substitution worked a treat, every single one of them making serious contributions. Eoghan O’Gara made a big difference to the Dublin inside forward line when he came on, with his ability to make that ball stick in his hand. This was in total contrast to Mayo, who lacked that big man or presence up front, any sort of strong target man, that might have made the desired impact.
Denis Bastick too was straight into the thick of the action when he came on, helping to provide that deft little final pass, which Dublin had been lacking up to that point. Dean Rock also made a big contribution in winning possession, while unfortunately for Mayo, none of their substitutions had anything like the desired effect. Gavin has such great belief in his bench, and they repaid that faith for sure.
On top of all that Dublin had one outstanding model of consistency in Stephen Cluxton. Once again he was exemplary and reliable with his kick-outs, and his overall marshalling of the Dublin defence is crucial to them keeping their game plan in place. When Dublin started to run the ball in the second half there was very little Mayo could do about it.
Style of management
It looks to me that Dublin have the prospect now of really building on this season, with the resources to become a real power in football. They’re becoming very difficult to beat in big games, but more importantly I think Gavin deserves great credit for building the template and getting what is required, the energy and character and determination to play until the finish. Also that certainly reflects very well on Gavin’s style of management.
I would have to look back as well as the way the two teams came to this final. Dublin were certainly stretched in a couple of games, especially against Kerry and against Cork too, whereas at no point were Mayo really put to the pin of their collar, like they were here. To me Dublin had the slight edge on fitness, too.
But without doubt Mayo’s biggest failure was not having the forwards able to kick a point from play. No team can expect to win an All-Ireland final after going the entire second half without kicking a point from play. No way.
There were other more subtle faults too. I think Aidan O’Shea was found out a little bit with his lack of mobility, especially against a player like Cian O’Sullivan, who made some great injections of pace when Dublin needed it most.
At the same time Dublin were clogging up their defence, yes doing a lot of fouling, and there was no way Mayo were going to find the necessary scores in that scenario.
It’s a desperately hard scenario for Mayo, losing another All-Ireland final like that, but then again they’re not too far off, and if James Horan stays on then he must know that, how so, so close they are coming.
What they need to find are a couple of big, strong physical players in the forward line as target men, which might just have the difference here.
As an endnote the Mayo minors deserve great credit and all the congratulations they get for ending their long wait for an All-Ireland title, with young talents such as Diarmuid O’Connor – younger brother of Cillian O’Connor – demonstrating that the future of football in the county is still looking bright.