The 2013 All Ireland football final will never be remembered as a classic, but the tense nervous climax made for a great atmosphere in Croke Park last Sunday on a beautiful autumn day and in perfect conditions.
Unfortunately for Mayo it went somewhat to script and their lack of quality in the final third of the pitch and subsequent inability to convert reasonable scoring chances cost them dearly.
The game boiled down to Bernard Brogan and Stephen Cluxton, the latter’s second half kickouts led to a period of dominance which allowed Dublin to pull away from the Connacht champions and ultimately hold out for a win by the narrowest possible margin. Had the game gone on for a few more minutes Mayo would have prevailed not least because Dublin were effectively down to 14 men with Eoghan O’Gara carrying a torn hamstring and it transpired that Rory O’Carroll was also suffering from mild concussion. Michael Dara McCauley may well have fractured his foot also giving an idea of the intensity of the game and the willingness of the players to see it out to the bitter end.
There was a bit of controversy over time keeping at the end, but I was amazed that Cillian O’Connor didn’t go for his goal when the game was otherwise over.
Brogan showed why he is one of the classiest players the game and given the right supply and taking the right option he can be unplayable. McCafferky couldn’t play within a mile of him and his tally of 2-3 was the difference. Mayo don’t have that clinical unplayable forward, and although Andy Moran returned a little closer to his best he had no real support from those around them.
Mayo have poor day on the sideline
Our seats were hardly warmed when Alan Freeman was called ashore and while O’Connor’s place was merited in respect of the frees scored, from open play he was ordinary at best. While Dublin could introduce O’Gara, Dean Rock and Kevin McManaman Mayo were left with players that made simply no impact.
I was amazed to see Seamus O’Shea withdrawn as he was easily the better of the brothers and, as I anticipated, Aiden made no impact on proceedings. This is often the case in these intense tight games for Aiden O’Shea, although he’ll probably get a midfield All-Star at the expense of Sean Cavanagh (the selectors will probably put him into the half forward line to accommodate others).
The withdrawal of Alan Dillon was a surprise too, but the biggest failure from the Mayo sideline was their inability to deal with the Cluxton kick outs for most of the game but especially the second half where time and again he punched the ball over the half backline on to a runner who had a ton of space in front of him. This had a massive bearing on the result.
Mayo will find this defeat the sorest of the most recent. They had Dublin on the ropes in the first half and failed to put them away and when he had to call into his reserves they were simply not good enough. A single point half time lead really needed to be four or five to negate the impact of a Dublin goal but when Brogan struck for the second time the result was never really in doubt.
Horan will look at the influence of Cluxton’s kick outs and the concession of a very soft goal and all these will cause him a few sleepless nights at least. I felt also that Joe McQuillan was very sore on Dublin and that they found their frees very hard to come by and the free count seems to confirm this.
Can Mayo recover?
Much debate has started around whether Mayo management and players will be able to recover from this, and indeed back-to-back final defeats as was the case in 1996/97.
It will be very hard to see them do it, more so from a mental rather than physical perspective. It is important for Mayo to retain James Horan and you have to remember that only three years ago this side were beaten by Longford in round three of the qualifiers so they have certainly come some distance under his reign.
But as I referred to earlier their key issue is unearthing a McFadden, Brogan or O’Donoghue and these guys are not in abundance. Failure to do so will leave with the same problem they had this year and indeed last. Dublin have again illustrated the importance of having a minimum of 20 quality players ready with substitutes that are going to positively influence the outcome of the game and this is why they are the 2013 All Ireland Champions. When Kerry and Mayo called on their benches the impact was minimal in comparison to the influence of the Dublin squad members.
Some chinks in Dublin’s armour
Dublin are beatable though. They struggled again at centre forward and wing backs were not nearly as influential when put under pressure. Diarmuid Connolly played in fits and Lee Keegan scored two points off him in the first half while I had to do a double take in the second to make sure he was still on the pitch.
If massive pressure is exerted on their excellent kick outs they will struggle to secure enough primary possession but with the greatest goalkeeper the game has ever seen between the posts this will prove most difficult to achieve. Mayo and Kerry exposed their overall defensive frailties but with youth and exuberance on their side and a physicality amongst them that is challenging they will certainly feature year in and out for the foreseeable future in the latter stages of the competition.
For now it is Dublin’s to enjoy and congratulations and good luck to them. While the hurling replay is a nice bonus for us next Saturday we can now look forward to the remaining games in the club championship particularly Malin’s semi final against Killybegs which we’ll preview next week.