As I walked from Croke Park last Sunday it was hard not to feel sorry for the Mayo supporters, young and old in tears, wondering would it ever be their day; will this generation ever get to walk the steps in the Hogan stand and lift Sam, but as one woman put it, ‘of course we’ll be back, what else can we do’.
It’s that sort of spirit that is at the heart of all that is good about the GAA; no criticism levelled at the players or the management, you win together and you lose together, the fight goes on. They will be back but whether it leaves a scar on the Mayo lads only time will tell.
Dublin were not at their best on Sunday. They have in the past been able to blow away teams with their skill levels and their ability to open defences and score goals. They started the same way. Con O’Callaghan gliding past the Mayo defence to score a goal in the first two minutes with a sublime finish.
Mayo didn’t panic and gradually got into the game but were certainly guilty of missing what would be considered at inter-county level easy chance. They had Dublin on the back foot for long periods but at no time did they do enough to put the Dubs under serious pressure.
What was evident last Sunday was the quality of players Dublin have in their squad. They could afford to start the game without the likes of Connolly, Brogan, McManamon, Flynn, Michael Dara Macauley, all of whom have All-Ireland medals; All-Stars; Player of the Year awards, yet they seemed content to be part of the squad and do whatever it takes to get the team over the line.
On previous occasions, I have praised the management skills that Jim Gavin possesses in abundance; never is it about him, it’s about the players, the supporters, those who follow the games in his county. His ability to keep the group together and going forward is testament to what makes Dublin probably the best team to come along since the Kerry teams of the seventies. Who is better? We’ll never know but right here and now Dublin are at a serious level with everyone else playing catch-up.
Yes, Mayo were the better side last Sunday but you must be able to take your chances; you must kill off teams when you are on top because even playing at only 60 or 70 per cent, Dublin have enough quality players in their group to change things in a blink of an eye.
Mayo supporters will look to the dismissal of Donal Vaughan. I thought it a bit harsh, not that they would show you that on the big screen in Croke Park. The idea that nothing controversial can be shown on a screen live at the game is just a joke at this stage and those who control such stuff need to grow up and move on.
There were other moments during the game where the referee Joe McQuillan tried to let things go. He would have been criticised for stopping it if he had to blow every free but to his credit he tried to let the game flow. Maybe it was not the best game ever played with the first half littered with handling errors, some poor passing, some poor kicking for scores, but I suppose we have to allow for nervous on such a huge day for both sets of players. In the second half, it was gripping because each team seem to follow the other in the scoring charts.
Dublin, it could be said, found their scores easier to come by, but the two goal opportunities that Mayo didn’t take cost them dearly. The Dubs will continue to be the team to beat, the team that the rest of the country have to catch. I doubt if Gavin will let their standards drop. The established players know if they let their performance level drop there is someone else just biting at the bit to take their jersey and they also know that Gavin and his management team are ruthless enough to take those decisions.
For Mayo, the hurt will fade as the months pass; they will regroup and go at it again. They need to find a few more players to freshen things up. They will continue to dream; as that Mayo supporter said, what else can we do.
On behalf of the ‘92 jubilee team that travelled to Dublin to celebrate the 25th anniversary, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those that made it possible, the good people in Magees who suited us up, Brian McEniff, Philip McGlynn and the staff of the Skylon Hotel who looked after us over last weekend and on many occasions before and to those who have over the years supported us in any way.