TAKING ON WATER Mayo manager James Horan talks to his players during the second water break in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Final against Dublin. Pic: Ray Ryan
AND on we go. Ten defeats in All-Ireland finals now since the glory days of 1951.
But unlike the losses of 2016 and 2017, there is much less of a sense of recrimination and blame this time around, much less a sense of one that got away.
Mayo simply did not stay at the high-octane level they brought in a brilliant first half last Saturday. Arguably they could not maintain that tempo, especially when having to respond and claw back two killer goals in the opening period.
Dublin slowly, but with absolute certainty, were starting to pull away in that second half.
Perhaps not immediately on the scoreboard, but in enough facets of general play that made it almost inevitable — with this remorseless Dublin team in particular — that the scores would come.
We feared that even just before half-time Mayo were starting to feel the impact of their efforts to push up so aggressively on Dublin and battle so hard and effectively to win primary possession on their own kick-out and on Dublin’s.
They didn’t fall off a cliff, they never crumbled, but at no stage in the second half did it look like they were going to win.
Where Dublin were pressurised in possession for much of the first half, they were much more composed and controlled in the second half, even when down to 14 men for the first ten minutes after half-time as Robbie McDaid sat in the sin-bin.
James Horan implored his men to ‘press the ball’ in the third quarter. Mayo’s minds were willing but their bodies appeared to be flagging just enough to tilt the balance.
An indication of just how good Mayo were in the first half was that Dublin did not catch one clean long kick-out, at either end, until Brian Fenton fetched a Stephen Cluxton restart clean in the game’s 43rd minute.
Fenton and Dublin were not starting to lord it, more slowly turn the screw. The pendulum was ever so slightly swinging in their direction. Ever so slightly is all this great Dublin team need.
Where they struggled in the first half on Cluxton’s kick-outs, they retained six out of seven after half-time.
Where Mayo had ten scores from 15 first half shots, this time it was just five from ten.
By the second water break Mayo had secured only one of their own kick-outs, that in the third quarter.
With less than ten minutes to go they lost two in a row and the Dubs got two points from them. The gap suddenly went from three to five and it was all over.
Despite Mayo’s excellence up to then on kick-outs, it did not matter as Dublin eventually found a way to get on top, were patient, and when Mayo were wilting ever so slightly, they put the games to bed.
And while Mayo had reacted so well mentally, and on the scoreboard, to the two sucker-punch first half goals, when they tried to summon the energy in the final quarter, it just wasn’t there.
THE real concern we had going into this game was very simple – that Mayo would not get enough possession to put themselves in a position to win.
Given the following factors – Dublin’s confidence on their own kick-out, Mayo’s lack of big ball winners in midfield and troubles with their own restarts against Tipp’ – it was hard to make an argument for how Mayo could just break even at midfield.
When you consider that backdrop, their first half performance in this respect was incredible.
They won 76 percent of all first half kick-outs and 62 percent overall in the full game.
On David Clarke’s restarts, Mayo won all eleven in the first half.
On Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs, Mayo won a very impressive 5/10 kick-outs.
Oisin Mullin won the first two and these put Dublin under immense pressure. When teams have pushed up on Cluxton this year, he has went long to Con O’Callaghan as an ‘out ball’, to considerable effect.
Yet here was O’Callaghan being outfielded by Mullin and that ‘out ball’ was not on.
Indeed, Cluxton was lucky with two more – one they won after a ‘hop ball’ after the ball did not cross the 20 metre line while another short one fortuitously went through a Dublin defender’s legs.
In front of the posts Mayo weren’t flawless but were where they wanted to be – scoring ten points from 15 shots, halfway to that magic ratio of 30 shots and 20 scores.
YET as good as Mayo were in that first half, we were shown just how damn hard this Dublin team is to beat. Because despite all their struggles in winning primary possession, the champions still led by two points at the break.
They had two fewer shots than Mayo and two fewer scores; but two of their eight scores were goals and they are huge scores when you are under pressure.
Mayo reacted superbly to Dean Rock’s goal after 12 seconds. It was a huge setback but, amazingly, Mayo were level by the third minute.
But every time Mayo would make a move, Dublin would respond.
They kicked the next three points to defiantly hit back at Mayo.
Mayo get level by the water break. Better still, two excellent Cillian O’Connor marks within 55 seconds of each other after the restart has Mayo in front for the first time, by two points.
Dublin’s next score? Con O’Callaghan’s goal.
Mayo responded with Cillian O’Connor and Ryan O’Donoghue both kicking equalising scores.
However, Dublin landed the last two scores of the half to lead by two again and, already, Mayo’s energy seems to be flagging. Responding to the goals took a lot out of them.
You’d love to compare GPS stats from the first half. To the naked eye it looked as if Mayo had to invest much more energy than Dublin in the opening period.
Some poor turnovers by Mayo in the second half looked like tired plays.
When the Connacht champions looked unable to make the extra man count in the first ten minutes after half-time, the writing looked to be on the wall. They refused to read it themselves though and a Cillian O’Connor free had them level on 50 minutes.
Dublin made sure they led at the second water break though with a Dean Rock free and to put pay to any lingering Mayo hopes, scored the next four points after the resumption.
And that was that.
THE number of David Clarke’s kick-outs that Mayo retained, 17/20. They won 11/11 in the first half and 6/9 in the second half.
THE number of Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs that Dublin won, 11/17, 5/10 in the first half and 6/7 after half-time.
MAYO’S shot conversion rate, scoring 10/15 in the first half but only 5/10 in the second half. Dublin, meanwhile, hit 70 percent, 16/23 – 8/13 in the first half and 8/10 in the second.