OUT OF REACH Mayo's Andy Moran tries to gather the ball ahead of Dublin's Jonny Cooper during Sunday's All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
THIS isn’t the column I wanted to write.
Mayo’s performance last Sunday was good enough to win an All-Ireland title. It just wasn’t good enough to beat this Dublin team. The record-books will only show whether you won one, or you didn’t.
I feel a mix of emotions: enormous pride in the players, and major disappointment for them. They’ve put so much into football over the last few years. This time last year, I called for marginal gains, and I think we played marginally better last Sunday than we did last year. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t good enough.
This Mayo team is every bit as good as Donegal were in 2012, or Kerry were in 2014. But unlike them, we still haven’t got our All-Ireland title. That’s what hurts me the most, for the players and management.
It was a horrible way to lose. If it wasn’t an All-Ireland final, you wouldn’t feel as bad about losing a match like that, because Mayo did so much right. I thought tactically, we were very, very good.
There were so many good performances. Chris Barrett was outstanding in the second half. Watching my fellow Belmullet man, I was proud to say I had played club football with him. I think his play explains in a nutshell why Mayo are able to compete with Dublin.
It’s because they’re not afraid of being left in one-on-one situations, surrounded by open space. Players from other counties faced with a Dublin attacker coming towards them would have been backing away, afraid to try and tackle them. But Chris Barrett doesn’t do fear.
Mayo’s mentality is to deal with that situation, and they did.
There were so many other big displays. Aidan O’Shea was immense. He was the player who got us going in the first 15 minutes of the game. He completely put to rest the talk that he doesn’t play well in big games. He was outstanding, and I like the fact that he was outstanding as a midfielder. I’ve always called for him to be played there; I think that’s his best role. He didn’t deserve to be on a losing team.
So many other Mayo players didn’t deserve to be on a losing team.
Kevin McLoughlin. Jason Doherty. Cillian O’Connor’s reaction after a poor first half was outstanding, and he was so unlucky with that last free. Colm Boyle fairly shut down Con O’Callaghan after that early goal. Incidentally, O’Callaghan obviously over-carried for the goal. If he was being fouled, he should have got a free in. You don’t let him continue without playing the ball. He still has to take a hop and a solo every now and then!
Mayo missed sitters in the first half – great chances of points. Three or four players squandered easy opportunities for points in the first half. And even at the start of the second half, Jason Doherty – who had a great game – missed one that he would normally have got. And if you can be critical of any of one thing that separated the two teams last Sunday, that would probably be it for me.
Donal Vaughan’s red card was unnecessary too. Mayo had just won a scoreable free for John Small’s foul on Colm Boyle, and the ball ended up being throw up instead. And of course, we only lost by a point. When both teams went down to 14 men, it opened up space on a big pitch, and probably helped the Dublin forwards.
Mayo’s worst spell came in second-half injury time. Cillian O’Connor’s free after the foul on Lee Keegan put us two up after 63 minutes … but maybe that was too early! That sounds like a crazy thing to say, but in the modern game, the second half lasts closer to 80 minutes than 70. I turned around to a Mayo fan behind me and said: ‘We need two more scores’. We didn’t get them.
No need for players to make hasty decisions
YOU can’t win an All-Ireland with 15 players anymore. These days, you win it with 21.
There was a difference off the bench, in the energy the Dublin substitutes brought. Their subs spent more time on the field than ours, and had a bigger impact on the game.
Mind you, Jim Gavin probably picked the wrong team, and had to make changes at half-time.
Gavin said before the game that his team didn’t play well in the 2016 finals, but that’s rubbish.
Dublin only played as well as they were let, and the reality is that Mayo are a fractionally inferior side to this Dublin team. In fact, Gavin should be complimenting his Dublin team – they’re playing a team they’re just a little bit better than, and they’ve always been able to beat us.
You have to give them credit for that.
By the way, Jim Gavin was every bit as cagey as any other team was last Sunday. Dublin could have pushed up on the Mayo kick-out, but they didn’t really – and it nearly hurt them. We expected them to push up, but David Clarke had a pretty easy afternoon on short kick-outs for the most part.
Some Mayo supporters left Croke Park on Sunday saying: ‘I wouldn’t have taken Andy Moran off’ or ‘I wouldn’t have taken Kevin McLoughlin off’. But I feel Andy was tiring. I do think that if you’re taking off shooters, the players you’re replacing them with need to be shooters. That’s my only criticism of the changes.
But Stephen Rochford deserves a lot of credit too. He and his management team have done some really good things over the last two years, and he still has a year to go in his three-year term. I hope he stays on.
Inevitably, when a championship ends, people leave Croke Park wondering if they’ll see certain older Mayo players back there again. I hope we will. For now, I think we’ve got to let the players make decisions in their own time. There’s no rush, and I hope we see them back on the big stage again.
But I think we should take a look at some new faces and names in the National League next year, and see what they’re made of.