Like most GAA supporters last week I would have been guilty of writing off Mayo’s chances of overcoming Dublin in the other All-Ireland semi-final. After Dublin’s success last year and that of their U-21 team along with the talented squad of players that they have to pick from, it was thought they would be the team to beat in years to come.
Mayo, like Donegal, just blitzed them with points just before half-time and again in the first ten minutes of the second half to secure victory. Granted Dublin made a great fight of it and were extremely close to getting on level terms if Bernard Brogan had to put away his goal chance. But it would have been an injustice on Mayo because their performance deserved the win.
In other years many Mayo teams would have folded when the Dubs came back at them, but James Horan, a young energetic manager just like Jim McGuinness, has brought new ideas and thinking into how they believe county teams should be prepared and how county players need to buy into their ideas.
Just like Jim McGuinness and his management team deserve great credit for bringing Donegal on leaps and bounds over the last couple of seasons, James Horan deserves the same. He, too, has brought a singleminded approach and desire for success into a group of players who in the past never showed belief that they could succeed.
In the next couple of weeks there will be plenty of opportunity to have a greater in-depth look into how both sets of players have turned things around.
But what of Dublin, the fanfare and the excitement that meet their last minute win over Kerry last year seems now a million miles away. How could a team that has an abundance of very talented and skilful players not reach the standards they set last year? Could it have been that the expectancy of winning the All-Ireland again this year got too much for them?
The absence of Alan Brogan and the poor form of his brother Bernard would not have helped but surely it couldn’t have come down to the fact that two players didn’t play up to scratch.
Pat Gilroy seemed to do everything right in resting the older players and bringing in younger lads during the National League. He even kept faith with them in the earlier rounds of the Championship; however the form of last year deserted them.
They won a Leinster Championship without ever reaching anywhere near the levels of last year. In fact it would be fair to say that they were lucky to come through most games. But like most I would have thought they had a couple of big games left in them this year.
It didn’t materalise. Could it have been that the hunger was no longer there? Those of us that were fortunate to play at that level and dream of winning an All-Ireland know that when you reach that goal that its hard to give the same commitment necessary to achieve that success again and even though you try your best winning that top prize does take the edge of a lot of players.
Then there are the celebrations. While all that might have been done, after January it would be more about the mindset of the players rather than the physical partying that is the clue whether players are up to it the year after they lift the Sam Maguire.
You can argue that the Kilkenny hurlers didn’t let that happen to them. But then for a few years there you could have hand picked all the best hurlers in the rest of the country, put them out against Kilkenny and it still wouldn’t have mattered such was the extent of talent that was available to Brian Cody.
Look at Tipperary who won the Liam McCarthy in 2010. They have not been able to get back to those heights since. The commitment levels that are required now to play at intercounty level are enormous; the sacrifices that players and their families make in order to allow the players to reach the top are huge. Everything else takes a back seat. They live the life of a professional athlete without the same rewards.
So when they get that success the question will always arise whether it’s worth it to keep giving that same commitment and making those very difficult sacrifices and maybe very little at the end of it.
The commitment levels that are required now to play at intercounty level are enormous