DUBLIN, Ire. – Over 82,000 people witnessed a pulsating All-Ireland final in Croke Park between reigning champions Dublin and Mayo along with millions around the world.
It was the first drawn All-Ireland football final in 16 years. Mayo started the better of both sides and played with an intensity both on and off the ball which the Dubs struggled to cope with early on. The drizzle in Dublin from early morning added to the number of handling errors by both sides, the errors, in turn, added to the excitement. No Dublin player scored inside the first half an hour of football, yet they were ahead after two freak own goals by Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle. This led to the statisticians scrambling to find out the last time one own goal went in at Croke Park, never mind two! McLoughlin was extremely unlucky after the ball deflected in off his standing foot to roll into the Mayo goal after a Bernard Brogan shot came off Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke.
The second own goal was just as unlucky but it came after a result of some fantastic vision by Diarmuid Connolly out the field to spot Dean Rock make a run in behind Colm Boyle towards the Mayo goal. Connolly dropped the ball into Rock’s chest with a free with the outside of his right foot – only players of Connolly’s ability would have dream of attempting such an effort, the ball bounced off Boyle’s foot into his own goal after Rock dropped fumbled ball. Mayo supporters in the crowd must have being questioning their belief in God.
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford wasn’t in the form for self pity afterwards : “You don’t feel sorry for yourself… We said we weren’t going to have regrets about certain things that would happen during the course of the year and during the course of the game. Some days you get a decision or you don’t get a decision; you get a lucky goal, you get unlucky. Things happen. It’s 70 minutes, it’s not a defining moment so for us it’s half-time.”
It was a strange opening 30 minutes of football. The Dubs were outplayed by the challengers to their crown yet they were still ahead on the scoreboard. Dublin was lethargic, Dean Rock was uncharacteristically off target with the majority of his frees. Rock came into the game with a conversion rate from placed balls of over 93%. Bernard Brogan was off form while Paul Flynn again failed to have his usual influence on the game.
Ciaran Kilkenny worked hard but he did not have the same impact on the game as he would have liked. Kevin McManamon, one of the brightest performers all year, had one of his worst displays in a Dublin jersey. Mayo’s full back Donie Vaughan scored more than five of the Dublin forwards from play combined, an incredible statistic. Indeed, Dublin only kicked five points from play all afternoon. Jim Gavin is no fool, he will know that his side are incredibly lucky to still be in with a chance of claiming yet another All-Ireland crown.
James McCarthy was sent off for a black card offense late in the first half after referee Conor Lane felt he intentionally knocked over Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor. It was a much debated incident but in my view O’Connor used the rules to his advantage, McCarthy led with his shoulder possibly feeling that O’Connor would do the same, instead the Mayoman fell to the ground which highlighted McCarthy’s ill-discipline. Ironically, Paddy Andrews came on for McCarthy and kicked two points within minutes which kept the Dubs in the lead at half-time. The majority of the Dublin side had days to forget with the exception of John Small, Paddy Andrews and Brian Fenton.
Fenton came into the game as one of the favorites for the player of the year accolade and although he had a decent game Jim Gavin will be still expecting more from him on Oct. 1. Another player which will need to produce more on Saturday week is Aidan O’Shea.
O’Shea is one of the finest footballers in the country and, at times, is unplayable. Stephen Rochford will know that he will need to find a way to get the best from O’Shea if Mayo want to claim that elusive All-Ireland title. O’Shea has high standards as is more aware than anyone that he needs to show his ability over the full 70 minutes. Mayo need him driving through the middle utilizing his strength and creating opportunities for his teammates running off his shoulder.
Mayo will be concerned that Dublin had such a poor afternoon yet they didn’t put them away. It is unlikely that we will see so many of this Dublin 15 play so poorly in the same game again. Diarmuid Connolly had a chance to put the final nail in the Mayo coffin with a sideline ball three minutes into stoppage time, Ciaran Kilkenny wanted to go short and to retain possession, Connolly wanted to have a go. The ball went wide, Mayo lived.
Jim Gavin didn’t fault Connolly for taking a shot: “Diarmuid, I’ve seen him kick them in training. So I have no issue with that. He’s well able to kick them over the bar from that distance and angle.”
Although Mayo was the superior side at Croke Park, they were whiskers away from coming home from headquarters empty handed yet again. It took nerves of steel from talisman Cillian O’Connor deep into stoppage time to calmly slot the ball over the bar from 40 metres to keep their dream alive. Mayo wing back Lee Keegan reflected afterwards. “That’s why he’s our leader. He coolly put the ball over the bar.” Rochford is aware that there is more in this Mayo side: “There’s still serious scope for us to improve on and we looking forward to being back here in 13 days.”
Many have said that Mayo has missed the boat, their chance is gone. Not for me. Mayo now know that the Dubs are beatable, no player will ever admit they fear a side but in my belief there will always be an element of fear playing the champions, especially these champions. The difference now is Mayo have gone toe-to-toe with the champions and that fear will have been erased from their sub consciousness. The Dubs are human, the Dubs can be beat. One Mayo supporter said on RTE News after.”If we could just win it once, just once.”
Oct. 1 cannot come quick enough.
Dublin: S Cluxton, P McMahon, J Copper, D Byrne, J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small (0-01), B Fenton (0-01) MD MacAuley, P Flynn, K McManamon, C Kilkenny, D Rock (0-04, 3f), D Connolly (0-01), Bernard Brogan.
Subs: P Andrews (0-02) for McCarthy (BC 24), P Mannion for McManamon (46), M Fitzsimons for Macauley, E O’Gara for Brogan (61), D Daly for Byrne (66), D Bastick for Flynn
Mayo: D Clarke, B Harrison, D Vaughan (0-02), K Higgins, L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan (0-01), S O’Shea, T Parsons (0-01), K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, D O’Connor, J Doherty (0-01), A Moran (0-02), C O’Connor (0-07, 5f)
Subs: A Dillon (0-01) for S O’Shea (55), C Barrett for Boyle (58), B Moran for Dillon (66), S Coen for D O’Connor (66), E Regan for A Moran (71), C Loftus for Regan (78).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).