All-Ireland victory boils down to last 15 minutes and Dublin’s bench

Six of winners’ 12 second-half points against Mayo come via subs

Final whistle: “There’s no point having talent on the bench if you’re not going to bring intelligence and energy on to the park,” said Kevin McManamon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Final whistle: “There’s no point having talent on the bench if you’re not going to bring intelligence and energy on to the park,” said Kevin McManamon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

It’s often a shyster’s trick, this. Taking something as vast and multilayered as what Dublin and Mayo produced here and boiling it right the way down, like a chef turning a stock into a sauce. There’s no guarantee you’ll always come up with the right flavour, that’s for sure.

Yet the conventional wisdom turned out to be right on the money. How many previews in the past fortnight said it would come down to the last 15 minutes and Dublin’s bench would make all the difference? Lo, it was written, and, lo, it came to pass.

Dublin had three subs on the field by the time Joe McQuillan threw the ball in for the second half. They were a point down and hadn’t been allowed to play at anything like their usual level, so it was brass-tacks time. If Dublin were going to get out the other end of this their bench was going to have to do some heavy lifting.

And although the contribution off the sidelines wasn’t as spectacular as in the replay last year, it did its bit. There was no three-score gift from the gods by Cormac Costello, but they more than paid their way, with Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon good for a point each. Of Dublin’s 12 points in the second half, six came directly from a last pass by a Dublin substitute and Connolly was fouled for Dean Rock’s free that carried the day.

More to the point they comfortably outweighed what came from the Mayo sideline. Mayo scored 1-7 in the second half. The only direct contributions from their bench were Diarmuid O’Connor winning a free for his brother to cash in and Stephen Coen feeding Kevin McLoughlin for a gorgeous score. No Mayo sub took a shot at the posts.

Pace, power, accuracy

There is really nothing between these two teams. Except for this. Dublin routinely bring pace, power, accuracy and coolness of the bench. Mayo bring youth, legs and vim. They don’t bring match-winners.

Scoring can be a crude enough metric, but consider that Mayo and Dublin have played five times in the past three seasons and that on each occasion the Dublin bench has outscored the Mayo one. Cumulatively, they’ve outstripped them by 2-11 to 0-5 over those five games. Including the drawn game and replay last year, the teams have been separated by a total of two points: over the three games the scoreline from the bench has been Dublin 0-8, Mayo 0-1.

Winning point: Joe McQuillan awards Diarmuid Connolly the late free with which Dublin beat Mayo. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Winning point: Joe McQuillan awards Diarmuid Connolly the late free with which Dublin beat Mayo. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“I think with the bench that we had we needed to play them quickly, because obviously they’re all quality players,” said Declan Darcy, the Dublin selector, afterwards. “There’s fellas who didn’t get on today who could have gone on. We needed to use the bench today – that’s a strength of ours. We needed to use that. It was no problem. We talked about taking them on before half-time even. We needed to play to our strengths, and obviously a key strength was our bench.

“At this level of competition you can see the fatigue of players. High-level players breaking down in the last five minutes – who’s going to break first? I suppose we just have that level of quality on the bench. They have quality, too, but we have some very strong players, and it was a key asset for us going into the game, and it was how we were going to play that card was going to be really, really important when it comes to the outcome. Because it’s very fine lines.”

Leaving Diarmuid Connolly sitting in the Hogan stand looked like a gamble that had backfired throughout the first half. The bare truth of the day is that Mayo didn’t make enough hay in that period. If they’d expressed their superiority in the baleful coldness of the scoreboard rather than the intangible currency of dominance, the Dublin bench could have been coming in on a fool’s errand. Darcy agreed that it was a risk to go with Eoghan O’Gara but made out that they really had no choice. The winners get to say that, of course.

“We don’t play to the reputation”

“We just watch and see what’s in front of our eyes. And if Diarmuid Connolly is playing well he gets a slot, and if he doesn’t he doesn’t. We don’t play to the reputation. We watch what we see, and if Diarmuid is producing the goods we play Diarmuid Connolly. So that’s the honesty we have within the group.

“That’s the way the group operates. It’s an honesty kind of a thing, and the performance piece is really important. How your attitude is coming up to training reflects in whether you get the slot or not. Absolutely, it was a risk. The safe bet would have been not to start Eoghan, to go traditional, maybe start Niall [Scully] and Paul [Flynn]. But then you have to take chances to get across the line sometimes.”

Connolly was terrific, scoring an unbelievable point that took him around four Mayo tackles/fouls, laying on the last pass for two more points and drawing the foul for Rock’s winning free. McManamon bustled in for a fine score of his own and sent James McCarthy away for the first of his two points. Bernard Brogan played his part, too, collecting under pressure and feeding McCarthy for the equalising score. Dublin scored six points from the 57th minute on; their subs were directly involved in four of them.

“We would have felt that there’s no point in having talent on the bench if you’re not going to bring intelligence and energy on to the park,” said McManamon afterwards. “Certainly, that’s what we did. Diarmuid was really cool under pressure today. There were a couple of times he held up the ball really well, and he won the free for Dean at the end, which was a great response to the wide he hit just before that.

“That’s what Diarmuid brings, and he hasn’t done that role for us before. There were probably question marks over whether he could do it, and of course don’t doubt the man. He really controlled the game when he got on the ball.”

The game was about more than the respective benches. Far, far more. But it was a battleground that Dublin needed and held and won. And it made all the difference.

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