John O'Keeffe: Rochford showed his inexperience with Hennelly call
Dublin didn’t play their best but they refused to panic when Mayo had momentum
Robert Hennelly consoled by Andy Moran after the game. Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO
There’s no doubt they’re the best team in the country, with talent and depth to spare, yet at the same time Mayo are left wondering what might have been.
Because Mayo did, on the day, have the beating of Dublin.
Instead, they met a team still very much at their peak, who didn’t play to their absolute best, yet still won, and that’s testament to the entire squad, brilliantly led by Jim Gavin.
Look at their set-up. They have the depth and the quality, but they also have the management to maximise that and select players fairly, based on current form.
Who would have thought Cormac Costello would have popped up to kick three big points, a key factor in winning the game? Gavin obviously saw that coming.
Starting Michael Fitzsimons was a brave call, because normally you don’t tamper with your full-back line, and he had a tremendous game.
Not starting Bernard Brogan also took courage, and Gavin was also very clever the way he introduced him, bringing that bit of zip and life to Dublin when they needed it. Likewise with Michael Darragh Macauley
The Dublin forwards, as a unit, didn’t completely gel with the fluid, cohesive movement that we’re used to. Costello helped change that, whereas Mayo didn’t have that type of player to bring on.
From early on, Mayo’s indiscipline cost them: they invited Dean Rock into the game and he punished them with some easy frees, and with that built his confidence.
Starting Robert Hennelly in goal instead of David Clarke is obviously a big talking point. Going back to my time, you want the goalkeeper to be confident, assured, and that comes from being familiar with your full-back line.
It’s one thing to look good down in Castlebar when there’s no pressure on. It’s a different story inside the cauldron of Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. So I wouldn’t blame Robert Hennelly. I would finger the blame squarely at the Mayo management.
It was a huge call for Stephen Rochford, and I don’t think a more experienced manager would have made it. There was too much riding on it, too much risk involved.
The black-card incidents were controversial too, and while I believe in the idea, there needs to be consistency, and we’re not getting that. John Small was guilty of an obvious black-card offence in the first half, fouling Andy Moran, yet stayed on the field.
Lee Keegan’s was obvious to a lesser extent, but for a defender, it was a silly mistake. The basics of good defending is to stay goal-side of your man, and he just got caught the wrong side of Diarmuid Connolly. He was a huge loss to Mayo after that.
Both defences stood up well. Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs were telling, particularly when he went long, and found his man, where Brian Fenton was excellent.
Macauley had a big influence, driving at the Mayo defence, using the ball sensibly. Contrast that with Mayo’s goalkeeping situation.
Still, Mayo were in the game until the death, which can only mean the defeat will hurt more than any other.
They’ll realise in the cold light of day that the game was there for them, very winnable. Seamus O’Shea raised his game, Diarmuid O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin too.
From frees, Cillian O’Connor was excellent too, but still they lacked an out-and-out scorer. They just couldn’t break that defensive line of Dublin. They lacked a cutting-edge.
Aidan O’Shea was helping out too much in defence, used up too much energy. And they just couldn’t find openings to kick from play. In a game of such fine margins that was costly. They were heroic in the build-up, but just couldn’t put the finishing touches to those moves.
O’Connor’s last free, the chance to equalise, was a tough angle, and it would be cruel to blame him given how well he’d done throughout to keep Mayo in the game.
But players should know, if you’re going to miss a kick like that, you miss on the far side, not the near post. It was big pressure kick, although I actually fancied him to make it.
Dublin’s experience told massively too. They never panicked, even with Mayo had the momentum.
They dug it out, kept their composure, and then used the strength of their bench to keep the tempo high. And that was just about enough to win the game, without playing at their absolute best.
It’s another bitter blow for Mayo to get over, but they still have players plenty young to ensure their future – they are, after all, under-21 All-Ireland champions.
But Dublin remain the template for a squad, the complete professionals, and winning back-to-back All-Irelands just proves there are going through a special time. It’s up to the rest of the country now to knock them off that perch.