Some reasons why Mayo beat Dublin
By Terry Reilly (c)
FIRST a confession. I did not think Mayo would beat Dublin. It was a view I found widely shared in Mayo, a call based on what the two teams had produced this year. It was mind over heart after many defeats.
I feared for Mayo’s chances, not because I thought Dublin were world-beaters. I feared for our men because I doubted our forwards. Not in the offensive sense, but in the defensive roles modern attacks MUST embrace to a man when not in possession.
In this department we have looked less than convincing, in some cases substituting smoke and mirrors for real substance, so visions of Dublin defenders sweeping up the field in counter-attacks, unfettered to over-run our defence and midfield and link with attack, were nightmarishly vivid.
There was another scenario, of course, which prompted hope. Put the pressure on Dublin and see if the thin and untested veneer over the cracks of past experiences held.
So, by doing the unexpected but essential job of tackling deep, and by showing great resilience and faith throughout the field, we did give the Dubs the necessary cross-examination. To be fair, they came up with honours in a middle segment of twenty minutes: they shoot away to a seven points lead in jig time early in the second half when Mayo were still coming to grips with Ronan McGarrity’s loss to a reckless challenge by a player who knew he wasn’t going to win the athletic contest.
As Dublin buzzed we recognised the scenario, and dreaded the outcome. But Mayo buckled down and applied the pressure as Pat Harte and David Brady upped the ante to renew our midfield grip. Suddenly Dublin were arrested in their relentless march to that seemingly inevitable date with the Kingdom. Mayo chipped away with beautiful scores, and the sudden and unexpected pressure saw Dublin split open like the San Andreas fault. They were gobbled up by the Mayo earthquake, and past doubts consumed them. The ruptures will rumble into the winter.
Mayo now had a team where other teams have had Mayo often, and this time the underdogs were not to be shaken free. The Hill fell silent, recognising that the end of the road was nigh. They did not have, after all, a wonder team. Or if they did, Mayo had a better one.
So how did it come to pass that Mayo caused the sensation of this year’s championship? A mix of reasons can be readily identified. Here are just eight.
I: We lengthened our game, got early ball to attackers and did not indulge in cul de sac solo runs which have placed us amongst the most naive teams in the land. And neither did every ball have to go through Ciaran McDonald.
2: With this long awaited change, we gave attackers a chance to show their wares, gain early confidence and encourage man-to-man tackling. And in the world of real bread-and-butter football, Alan Dillon was quite superb.
3: Midfield now had a chance to function, and did, because we had a chance to snap up breaking ball. Pat Harte, I thought, was magnificent as Mayo battled with McGarrity’s loss. And David Brady used his cuteness when he came on to ‘win’ frees and steady the ship. How we started without him against Kerry in 2004, when he was two years younger, must remain one of the haunting memories of that final.
4: Our defence, given the outside shield, set about dismantling the vaunted Dublin attack which now found itself where Mayo forwards have wandered for years, in a desert in the final twenty minutes. The weight of expectancy on their shoulders was palpable. They cracked: in a tight game their place-kicker was called ashore. Unbelievable.
5: Dublin’s collapse helped us immeasurably. It was contributed to by so many Dublin switches which were inexplicable. Think about it: if Mayo went seven points up in the second half and lost wise heads would have nodded knowingly. We did it in 1996 from an even more advantageous position and it cost Mayo an All-Ireland and John Maughan sainthood. It has to cost Dublin, too.
6: Mickey Moran and his backroom team had the team well conditioned, physically and mentally. Dublin were scuppered at key junctures and in key positions. And the substitution were spot on, even the substitution of Andy Moran for James Nallen. A forward for a back with 30 minutes to go, unusual but the kind of inspired move that wins key games. More in the locker, hopefully! And there is very obviously a great bond between players and management. ‘Family Mayo’ must be branded.
7: The defiant march on The Hill. Unseemly. Unplanned (most surprisingly in a era when everything is planned to the last second). Brave. It affected Dublin in that it clearly upset their manager. It also threw down the gauntlet. High risk stuff. But it worked because Mayo worked their socks off thereafter. (As a result of the spectacle, expect GAA authorities to ask teams to toss for pre-match kicking rights in future!)
8: Principally, Mayo won because in the mental stakes they were more in tune with the demands of the day. Body language tells a lot. Dublin looked drained and grey before the game. Wrapping them up in cotton wool, well away from the media could not isolate them from the fans’ expectation of a final meeting with Kerry. Early tell-tale signs were lack of focus during the National Anthem, fumbled ball and shots at the posts forced wide. Contrast that with Mayo whose shots glided over, free of stress. Mayo only hit 6 wides.
Analyse these factors, throw in the All-Ireland experience from two years ago, dreadful and all as it was, and you come up with seminal reasons why Mayo won.
A great game contributed to by both teams. Great heroes in Mayo jerseys who debunked all the nonsense about upper body strength being the be all and end all of modern Gaelic football. Give me pace of thought and action any day. Plus, of course, attitude.
Enjoy the lead in to the final. To the fans, give the players space on one side, and to the Management, give them room to keep in touch with reality on the other hand. Absolutisms don’t work.
And a few early words of warning: (a) one great performance in a semi-final in August does not an All-Ireland make in September; and (b), in Kerry last Sunday night those sage heads who have seen thirty-something All-Irelands brought to the county smiled into their pints in the same way as they smiled in 2004 after we finally shook Fermanagh free. But while Dublin dismissed us publicly, Kerry are too cute for that.
Know it, and use it!
*Article published in The Western People newspaper.