Darragh Ó Sé: Dublin will relish another bite at the cherry

Mayo will have their work cut out containing Dubs in All-Ireland football final replay

As a player, the feeling after a drawn All-Ireland final is unique. There is no game in your career that you have put more of yourself into; then all of a sudden it's over and you don't know what to do with yourself.

The amazing thing about a draw is that even though everyone knows that a game must end one of three ways, we only really ever consider two of them.

I remember playing Galway in 2000 and not even being sure what way to shake hands with them at the final whistle. It’s one thing shaking hands with a guy you won’t see again until the League. It’s easy to be friends when the war is over. But knowing I had to see them again in a fortnight just threw me for a minute.

All through the build-up to a final, the aftermath is in the back of your mind. It’s away in the back but it’s there somewhere. If you win, it’ll be mighty. If you lose, it’ll be brutal. But those are the only two possibilities you have in your head. You don’t think about what might happen if it’s a draw.


It’s a total anti-climax. It’s like a wedding that doesn’t go ahead. You’re neither here nor there. There’s no enjoyment in it. The end of the season is a release – you’ve been aiming for it and living like a schoolboy for months. And then, out of nowhere, it’s delayed. It’s hard to get your head around.

The next two weeks are also a bit different to what has gone before. For the last month or two, you have been having the time of your life. Training on summer’s evenings, hard ground, sun setting, all that jazz. Students on the panel haven’t a thing to worry about; it’s the same for teachers. This is holiday time and what better thing would you be doing with your holidays than training for an All-Ireland?

However, the two teams would have been back training together last night. The sun was gone by 7.30pm. The ground was soft after the rain from the weekend. The students were back at college – I presume a few of the Mayo lads are studying in Dublin so there's travel involved.

The weather was colder. The air had smoke coming from the chimneys in the local neighbourhood because people are lighting the fire for the first time since the spring.

It can take a couple of days to get your head right. I don’t think the managers can simply go: “Right lads, it’s only half-time here – let’s get stuck in.”

It feels different. You have to let these players get the first game out of their system, allow them to come down from the emotional high of playing in that game and clear their heads.

In fairness, players these days are probably better able to handle things happening out of the blue than we were. They won’t get involved in any sideshows.

As for the game itself, I don't want to pick on referee Conor Lane too much but I think it's fair to say he missed a good few things on Sunday. He got things wrong for both sides and balanced the books as the game went on.


Is he the best referee in the country? No. That’s not a criticism, it’s just reality. Is he the most experienced? Again, no. So why not make the referee for the final someone better and more experienced? The same guys referee the hurling final all the time: if it’s not

Brian Gavin

, it’s Barry Kelly or

James Owens

. They’re the best referees so they do the biggest games.

Who's nose did David Coldrick or Maurice Deegan put out of joint that they didn't get the football final? These games are too important to put in the hands of someone who hasn't done a lot of big games before. I know Lane refereed the club final in March but otherwise has he done many big games in Croke Park? I don't think he has ever done an All-Ireland semi-final, for example.

Why did they put a guy in that position when he wasn’t used to it? It’s unfair on him and it’s unfair on players. A draw papers over the cracks and everyone moves on and goes again. But ultimately it’s not good enough.

The other thing that they'd want to keep an eye on is the ball they use. For the second year in a row, they got a rainy day in Croke Park for the final and, as everyone can see, that pitch gets very greasy with a shower of rain on it. But there's a big problem with the ball when the final comes on a rainy day.

Croke Park breaks out a brand new ball for the final and they put six behind each goal straight out of the wrapper. That’s all well and good on a fine day, but a new O’Neill’s ball is a total bar of soap in the rain. The water slides off it, like it does off a new wax jacket.

Anybody who has ever played football knows that the ball is different a few weeks after it gets used for the first time. There’s a bit more grip on it, the leather is a bit more worn down. But a brand new ball has a shine on it and as soon as water gets anywhere near it, it becomes nearly impossible to control.

The major effect is to swing the game massively towards defenders. Every inter-county player has a way of protecting the ball in possession that can survive a regulation tackle. If you’re running with the ball and the tackle comes in, you pull it into you by reflex. But if it’s a brand new ball on a rainy day, it can just as easily pop out itself.

That plays on your mind. You’re more careful in possession, which makes you slower. In an All-Ireland final, you need to be forceful and decisive. You need to impose your will on the opposition. If your will involves punching the ball away so the forward can’t collect it, then a slippy new ball straight out of the wrapper is ideal.

After about five minutes on Sunday, Bernard Brogan went over to the sideline and flicked a ball up into his hands. He was in front of Brendan Harrison and started turning in towards goal . You've seen him do it 100 times: run out, collect the ball, drive infield and pop the point.

But just as he got his head up, Harrison got a hand in and flicked the ball away. He barely had to touch the ball to knock it out of Brogan’s grasp. It was good defending, yes. But he was helped by the fact that it took very little pressure to dislodge the ball.

So it was a backs day on Sunday, no question. Dublin’s shooting was well below par and Mayo had some wild ones as well. I know Aidan O’Shea drove a lot of people mad with that shot at the end but in fairness to him, I thought he put in a serious day’s work otherwise.


O’Shea skinned Cian O’Sullivan with a run in the first half to set up a goal chance for

Patrick Durcan

– the move started with that Harrison dispossession, in fact. He tackled like a demon all day and got hit plenty too without cribbing about it. He attracted Dublin players to him like a honeypot and freed up his teammates.

O’Shea shouldn’t have gone for the spectacular shot at the end – it wasn’t the day for the big 40-yarder with the outside of the boot. But I thought he did plenty in the game.

Someone else who was better than people gave him credit for was Stephen Cluxton. Mayo got a run on Dublin at the start of the second half but it was Cluxton who calmed everything down with his kickouts. He hit Brian Fenton long into midfield like a bullet from a gun after one of them. He mixed it up and went to John Small for another.

These weren’t easy, short dribblers out to the corner back. They were tough kicks into small windows but they got Dublin back on the front foot. Mayo’s job hasn’t changed for the replay. They must target Cluxton, who is still Dublin’s most important player.


I didn’t play well in the drawn All-Ireland final in 2000. For that reason, I was delighted there was a replay and I’d say I was probably able to get focused on it more quickly than some of the guys who had played well.

I was just relieved that I wasn’t going to have to spend the winter in the horrors because I had underperformed in an All-Ireland final and lost the game.

Nothing stings like turning up in an All-Ireland final and letting it pass you by. Usually, the best-case scenario is you get back the following year but the reality is most players never get back. So to have another shot a fortnight later is like getting a pardon from the prison warden just as they’re strapping you into the electric chair. You’ll do everything you can to make it count.

So I'd watch out for Brogan, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon and these guys in the replay. They're getting a second bite of the cherry, whether they deserve it or not. I won't make up my mind until next week but I get the feeling that could be the difference in the replay.