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Rochford: 'Sport can be cruel. No more than that in 70-plus minutes'

‘We rattled the post with a free kick in injury time. And Dean Rock nails it, and that’s the margin

A dejected Mayo manager Stephen Rochford at the final whistle. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

For the man most biblically fabled for coming back to life there is no actual record of the death of Lazarus, which may or may not be something for Mayo supporters to cling on to in this their latest hour of grievance. 

Nothing about losing an All-Ireland football final ever gets easier. Even for the team that has risen again after more defeats than any other, it will always feel like a sort of temporary death.

Now is not the time for condolences, only the mere acknowledgment that this wasn’t to be Mayo’s day, and they’ll keep on trying until that day comes.

“It just wasn’t to be,” said Mayo manager Stephen Rochford, seemingly lost for any wider interpretation beyond that. He was just about containing the emotional upset and distress that comes with another defeat. 

Because even against the backdrop of Mayo’s eight lost finals since 1989, this ninth final defeat– by the same one-point margin as last year’s replay defeat to Dublin – comes in standalone crushing terms, and Rochford must feel that now more than anyone. 

“I don’t know. You come second in two All-Ireland finals by a point? You can just tap your cap to Dublin. Today was really just about them, in fairness, a phenomenal achievement to win three in a row, sincere congratulations to Jim [Gavin] and to Stephen [Cluxton].” 

That final score again, 1-17 to 1-16. Last year it was 1-15 to 1-14 in the replay. Faraway, so close. 

“We rattled the post with a free kick in injury time, and Dean Rock – and not to take away from the enormity of the kick – but a slightly easier kick, maybe, or slightly easier angle. And he nails it, and that’s the margin. So, sport can be cruel. No more than that in 70-plus minutes.” 

Mayo did so much right in the first half only for some things to unravel in the second – such as a straight red card for full back Donie Vaughan (at the same time Dublin lost John Small to a second yellow). 

Better team

“It will be easy for us to jump on that,” said Rochford. “To be honest I genuinely didn’t see the incident because we were trying to get a sub on, get Diarmuid O’Connor in at that time. 

“But today isn’t about a sending off or a not sending off. We’ve come second in an All-Ireland final to a better team on the day and that’s where we have to be with it, you know?”

Nor did Rochford buy the suggestion that this their 10th game of the summer eventually took its toll against a fresher Dublin team. 

“Not at all. We played, what, three minutes of injury time in the first half, 77 minutes in the second half. So over 80-minutes, and we’re chasing down Dublin who are masters of possession, and maybe an inch or two from getting a dispossession. So, no, I certainly don’t believe there was any tiredness in there. 

“At certain times, maybe, after we scored the goal, Dublin came back and kicked two points. We weren’t able to build the margin that we would have liked, but that was nothing in relation to fitness or mental fatigue or anything like that, which undermines coming second.” 

A point up at half time, the only plan at that stage was to keep doing that they were doing.

“We created a lot of good chances. They scored the goal after a couple of minutes. Then we held them maybe to two or three points from play over the course of the next 30 minutes, so we felt we were doing a lot of things well, and it was just going out to repeat that.”

Individual brilliance 

What kept Dublin in that first half was Con O’Callaghan’s goal after 90 seconds, a moment of individual brilliance which also drew attention to the number of steps he took. 

“I don’t know. I thought it was just a fine finish for a guy starting his first senior final, so congratulations to him.” 

The difference in the end was not just Rock’s winning free but Dublin’s bench, Diarmuid Connolly for one making just some plays that helped the game Dublin’s way. 

“Look, it’s well documented Dublin have a very experienced bench. Our bench maybe had a lot more youth on it. But we have All-Ireland under-21 and minor winners, and I think our guys performed admirably. 

“But I don’t think there is any one defining point to that game, if you’re talking about a point being scored on the stroke of the 76th minute from a free. But maybe on reflection I may tend to think that maybe the bench did have a bigger impact. But, look, it’s not something I felt was a deciding factor, off the sideline anyway.”