I found myself thinking of the Dublin and Mayo supporters this week. At least the players have had their training and planning to get on with. The people can only wait. It's a bit like having to do your first day at school all over again. The same questions and apprehensions remain. You just don't know what is going to happen.
At the airport on the night of the drawn final, I spotted a man in a Mayo jersey making his way through duty free. He passed the Dior stand and his eye caught the tester bottles of aftershave sitting there.
I found myself chuckling because I could see what was going to happen next. And almost without breaking stride, he looked at the bottle, lifted it up, directed a few sprays around his neck, gave himself a wee shakedown and then squirted more aftershave onto the jersey. Then he kept moving, feeling more fragrant if no less anxious. And I just thought: that’s the pressure of the All-Ireland right there.
What has struck me since the drawn game is the sheer range of opinions on the match. The diversity of opinion is intriguing. Were Mayo really good? Were Dublin poor? Did they deviate from the game plan? I have given my opinion here last week but still, it is interesting to see just how differently so many people viewed that game. But it is what is happening between the two games now that will shape the destination of the Sam Maguire.
My personal experience of replays is mixed. I vividly remember the 1989 Ulster championship, when Donegal went all the way to the final against Tyrone. Donegal were training so hard under Tom Conaghan and he had put them through a really intense regime that winter: they were super fit and we all felt they were going to do it.
It was one of the few times I was at an Ulster final as a teenage fan and I was just soaking in everything. It was brilliant: getting on the bus at 8.30 in the morning as part of the straw-hats brigade. And the older gang already in the pub in
at that time and the bus landing in Clones at 11.30 for a 3.30pm throw-in. I remember the sun splitting the rocks and about 50 of us outside this particular pub and everyone singing.
Donegal almost won it; a point up with a few seconds left and I can still see Martin Shovlin just inside the 45 stretching to defend and the Tyrone player kind of leaned into him and won a crafty free. Stephen Conway hit the free and the entire stadium was transfixed by the ball. It hit the inside of the post and went over.
We went down the road thinking that we were still in it and we were really optimistic about doing the same routine a week later. But we were annihilated in the replay. We were torn apart. It was like watching two different teams. So who are Donegal and who are Tyrone in this current scenario?
That’s the big question.
Something about Dublin's post-match attitude stayed with me. I liked the fact that they didn't give interviews and almost automatically went into lock down. Jim Gavin has a very balanced public demeanour but my guess is that behind the dressing room door that Sunday evening, he was livid. It was as though the focus kicked in straight away. Will that be significant? We will see.
In 2005, Glenties, my home club, reached a county senior final for the first time in 40 years. We had never won a senior championship in our history. And on the weekend of the final, the pressure to deliver was intense.
You could cut the atmosphere with a knife in the town on the morning of the match. I could feel it when I woke up. And it wasn’t a positive thing either. This wasn’t frivolous excitement. It was very grave and solemn. It was tension at its purest.
And we almost had the game won but St Eunan's, who were strong favourites, fought back and got late scores to earn a draw. What I didn't know was that most of our boys had themselves backed at 6/1. They used an Ardara bookies – Ardara are our biggest rivals so they wanted to compound the pain. But they collected no money for a draw.
So around the county the feeling afterwards was that Glenties had missed their chance; that Eunan’s were a juggernaut and wouldn’t be caught twice. I suppose that’s the view nationally towards Mayo this week.
In fairness, the boys headed back to the same bookies and backed themselves again. And we won it. I remember the boys sitting in Leo’s bar saying: those are wild tasty pints, those. Because Ardara money paid for them and that made them all the nicer.
So grappling with what Mayo can do with where they find themselves now has been interesting. Are they stung? Can they bring the same fire the next day?
What could make a difference for both teams on Saturday? Obviously for Dublin, it is a unique situation in that Jack McCaffrey, the reigning player of the year, is in the city and playing football and is theoretically available for selection but isn’t involved.
It’s a really unusual situation.
was player of the year in 2012. And if Donegal made the 2013 All-Ireland final and Karl was away but reappeared after the semi-final, I find it hard to imagine that the squad wouldn’t want him back in some capacity. I am not suggesting that Jack should be parachuted back in for Dublin. But not using him is a luxury few county squads could afford. And it should be acknowledged that
was the man-of-the-match in the first game.
Replays are a test of character but also of management. What I mean by that is, during the lead in to the All-Ireland final, both teams would have done a huge amount of work on one another. The preparation and analysis would have been thorough. All that is compiled now, plus the data on what happened in the final. So both Rochford and Gavin have to parse that and use it to form a new game plan to get them over the line.
Obviously the replay won’t replicate the drawn match but the first game has its uses. You get to see people up close, what worked on your kick out, what didn’t; where the opposition has legs, who doesn’t, who can turn well on their left and right. You get to see all the small vital things up close. So your match ups should not be wrong at the second time of asking.
I spoke last week about the deceptive nature of the drawn match. The replay will reveal the true colours of both teams. So if Mayo were very good defensively, the Dublin forwards will be feeding their problems and difficulties back to management to see if they can come up with a new approach.
My sense is that that the element of momentum is with Dublin. Their reaction to what happened is, by necessity, straightforward. They were 25 seconds away from winning it. That’s how close they were. They looked hurt afterwards. I am sure some of the players thought they had it when the ball went over the sideline. They had one hand on the cup. I think that is why they went on lock down after the game.
My impression was that Mayo felt a sense of relief that they had rescued the game from the jaws of defeat. And on reflection they will see that things happened in the match that normally don’t. And that will be a comfort. Whether that transpires to be the truth or not, it remains to be seen. They did stay in the game and showed character and kicked 0-3 in the dying minutes.
But I’d prefer to be stung and to be gravitating towards the All-Ireland and maybe believing you have it won only to find that all the celebrations and euphoria are suddenly snatched away and you have to do it all again. I’d prefer to have my players very annoyed at themselves and just itching to get back out there to put it right.
Of course, only Dublin know internally if they feel like that. Because the fact is they do have to do it all again; they have to play 70-plus minutes and match that Mayo intensity and desire. The reality is that they did not play well as a unit and that can create its own lingering doubts – which may resurface again on Saturday if Mayo apply requisite pressure. Assuming that Dublin are just going to click into gear is one thing. Making it happen is another.
So we have all these opinions. The one certainty is that not everyone is going to be right. What will have to happen in order for Mayo to win on Saturday? I can’t answer that.
What I would say is that if Mayo are champions by seven o’clock on Saturday evening, I will be fascinated to see how they achieved it. Will it be because we read it wrong and Dublin are sliding and Mayo have actually overtaken them without any of us realising it? Will it be because Mayo somehow outfox them with a new game plan? This is why it’s so tantalising.
My feeling hasn’t changed. I think Dublin are going to win because they will look to return to their own values and when they play the game with real tempo, underpinned by those values, then they bring a relentlessness to the number of questions they ask.
And if they can snap out of this possession-for-the-sake-of-it and being too meticulous and return to their core values of running it and kicking it and supporting that kick pass in twos and threes, it will return them to that flow-state where they normally operate.
They would have been delighted had they won the All-Ireland a different way in the drawn game – by being highly composed, thoughtful and meticulous.
But the fact that they felt sucker punched at the end, will, I feel, snap them back into who they really are and force them to remember what those values are. So I would see a return to the norm on the tactical side of things.
And regardless of who starts or who doesn’t, Dublin have 21 very high quality players to execute that game plan, not to mention the player of the year sitting among the supporters. I’m sure Jack McCaffrey would say it’s probably easier being a player.
The 80,000 or so present next Saturday evening will be living on their nerves again for 80 thrilling minutes. The lights will be on in Croke Park coming down the stretch.
I think it will be magical. I think it will help to bring out the best in the players – and the two teams’ supporters.