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Darragh Ó Sé: Dublin wouldn't be Dublin without Mayo

Rivalry with Mayo is defining Dublin – they’re the best two teams of last 30 years

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan in action against Keith Higgins of Mayo. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

It’s very rare that you come away from an All-Ireland final with mixed feelings. As long as I’ve been going to them, the best team wins the All-Ireland and everyone else goes home for the winter a forgotten team.

But after that final, which has to be one of the best I can remember, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t come away thinking of both teams, the winners and the losers.

In saying that, I am conscious of trying not to take anything away from Dublin’s achievement. There’s always a danger that if you spend too much time going on about Mayo, you overlook what Dublin have done. Or you don’t give it the due it deserves. I was thinking about this over the last couple of days when I was trying to come up with a way of talking about both teams in this column.

In the end, it’s actually fairly straightforward.

Dublin have shown that they are the best team of the last 30 years by beating the second best team of the last 30 years. Forget Kerry, forget Tyrone or Meath or Donegal or whoever else. This Mayo team is playing to a higher level than all of them. They’ve just have the rotten bad luck to be around at the same time as Dublin.

James McCarthy: made a massive impact in the dying minutes of the game which helped to get Dublin over the line. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

It’s like the old story about one of the singers in the ’50s and ’60s, around the time when Frank Sinatra was the biggest star in the world. One of the lads whose shows weren’t selling like Frank’s was left down in the dumps one night when only half his seats were filled.

“I know Frank is the voice of a generation,” he said, “but why does it have to be my generation?”

In just about any other era, Mayo would have at least one All-Ireland. That’s why you can’t talk about how good Dublin are without talking about Mayo. If we didn’t have Mayo, we wouldn’t have any idea what Dublin are capable of.

I have always said that to win an All-Ireland final you need at least 10 or 11 of your players to have one of their best games of the year. Tactics, game plans, everything else is all fine and well but basically the team that wins is the team who had the most players playing up to their mark.

Mayo had at least 12 players on Sunday who couldn’t have done any more. I was watching Tom Parsons playing with reckless abandon at times on Sunday and feeling a small bit jealous, remembering back to All-Ireland finals where I was too cautious in myself.

I never played a game in a final like he did the last day. I sometimes treated finals as though they were nearly too sacred and I was too afraid to make a mistake. Parsons had none of that mindset on Sunday and he had a game for the ages because of it.

The best

This is what Dublin had to beat. That’s why we can say for sure that they’re the best we’ve seen in so long. People say they’ve only won these finals by a point – as if it’s a bad thing. Ten times out of 10, winning by a point is enough.

When you’re on the bus on the way back to the hotel and Sam Maguire is sitting there in the front window for everyone to see, a point is more than plenty. To be a point better than this Mayo team is nothing for the Dubs to be one bit embarrassed about.

Especially when they did it the way they did it. They outscored Mayo 0-4 to 0-1 after the 63rd minute at a time when they were behind by two points in an All-Ireland final. They kept doing the right thing over and over again and driving forward. They weren’t playing safe. Nobody was hiding. Nobody was making a run to be seen to make a run. Everyone wanted the ball.

I’ve heard a few grumbles in the past few days about James McCarthy getting man of the match. I see where they’re coming from to some extent. He definitely wasn’t anywhere near the best performer in the first half when Aidan O’Shea was having a massive game. But the reason I would say he deserves the award is that when the game was there to be won, it was McCarthy who did the winning.

No other county would have lived with Mayo on Sunday. No team from the last five years other than Dublin would have lived with them. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Just after Cillian O’Connor’s free put Mayo two ahead, there were seven minutes for Dublin to rescue it. Stephen Cluxton took a short kick-out to Mick Fitzsimons and then when he got the return pass, who was coming short looking for it? James McCarthy.

When you’re playing in a close game and there’s nothing between the teams, your first thought is to always get the ball into the hands of the guys everyone trusts. With Kerry, I always looked to see where Paul Galvin was or where Colm Cooper was. Not only was that ball going to a good place, you could be sure that it was going onwards to a good place too. The right fellas would do the right thing with the ball.

Cluxton was going to play that ball onto whoever came to meet him at that stage in the game but I’d be 100 per cent sure that when he looked up and saw it was McCarthy coming to him, he’d have thought, “Yeah, the right man has it”. A big leader on the team coming at you saying, “Right, let’s do this.” That’s what you want.

Dublin got the ball up the other end of the pitch to Paul Mannion for a point in that move and McCarthy was the only man involved twice. He made ground both times, driving on and using the ball. Mannion had plenty to do when he got the ball at the end of the move and most of the credit for the score goes to him but McCarthy was at the heart of it.

Wiped out

From the kick-out, Brian Fenton went up to challenge in the air but when Dublin won the break, it was McCarthy who got them moving again. He played it forward to Mannion and kept running so that when Bernard Brogan got on the end of Mannion’s pass, McCarthy was there as an option. And then he was bold enough to draw a brilliant shot in from outside the right-hand post.

So basically in two minutes Mayo’s lead was wiped out. In that two-minute spell, the only Mayo player who got a touch of the ball was David Clarke to take the kick-out. Mannion played a big part, getting on the ball twice, scoring a point and playing a good ball into Brogan for him to set McCarthy up for the second one. Fenton was important too.

But McCarthy was on the ball four times in those two minutes, from taking the ball from Cluxton to kicking the equaliser. Everything he did in that spell was positive and pushed Dublin forward. That’s why he won man of the match. You dream of being able to be that player in the closing minutes of an All-Ireland final.

On the flipside, you have the nightmare scenario of what Donie Vaughan did. Christ, you could take no pleasure in that. That’s a life-changing event, a rush of blood to the head that he’ll never forget.

Donie Vaughan receives the red card. It was a life-changing event, a rush of blood to the head that he’ll never forget. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

I’ve seen Mikey Sheehy, one of the all-time greats, stopped in the street by fellas reminding him that he missed the penalty against Offaly in 1982. Vaughan could be in New York 30 years from now and somebody will bring up his red card against Dublin. Cruel stuff.

I was talking to a fella from Mayo after the game and I said, ‘How in the name of God are ye going to come back from this?’ And he told me that he worked in Japan for three years and China for another two and he’s been working in San Francisco for the last few. Over the years, he reckons he’s spent over €30,000 coming home for Mayo All-Ireland finals and semi-finals and replays and all the rest of it. “And I’ll do it again next year,” he says. “We’re not going away.”

Are Mayo gone? No, they’re not, the more I think of it. Why would they be? People think if they keep saying Mayo can’t come back, one day it will turn out that they’re right. And look, their bodies will go eventually. But I don’t see any really good reason it should be next year. No other county would have lived with them on Sunday. No team from the last five years other than Dublin would have lived with them on Sunday.

Mentally strong

And if the argument is that they can’t keep coming back mentally, well, they’ve kept coming back so far – why would next year be any different? The one thing we know about them above all is that they’re mentally strong. Maybe it’s just human nature and we presume they can’t keep being that strong. But that’s just a guessing game. The evidence so far has shown they can.

As it is, they are the ultimate tribute to Dublin. They’re Frazier to Ali, pushing them on to do things you never would have thought a Dublin team was capable of. I think you can see the Dublin players know it too. You know the way you can see it in two boxers after a big fight when they drop all the pretence and all the mind games and just embrace each other? The Dublin players looked like that afterwards.

We’ve all heard a million of those captain’s speeches where the opposition are left till last and the same old things are said and it all ends with half-hearted three cheers. Cluxton didn’t do that on Sunday. He started his speech by talking about his respect for Mayo and he didn’t insult them with the old hip-hip-hooray carry-on. Nobody knows better than Dublin how good Mayo are.

The best thing you can say about Dublin is that time after time after time, they’ve been that small bit better. They have Sam Maguire for the winter and hats off to them. They’ve more than earned their place in history.