It wasn’t meant to turn out like this, really it wasn’t. We needed to open up on them right from the throw-in but instead got clocked for 2-1 without reply inside the opening ten minutes. Shades of 2006 – though in truth it never really felt like that – but we then clawed our way back into it. Dominant for the second quarter, only three down at the break and then we missed three glorious point-scoring chances early in the second half. We could have been level then but instead Donegal – surviving on small slivers of possession – added two to their total and, in truth, there was no way back from there for us.
So, the bad news is that we lost an All-Ireland final today but we can’t allow ourselves to wallow in this latest decider defeat. It’s for others to prattle on about how many finals it is that we’ve lost and all that but those cold statistics shouldn’t come into our thinking. We lost, yes, but today we died with our boots on and we had enough possession over the course of the seventy minutes to be far closer to them on the scoreboard at the final whistle.
That’s the frustrating thing: the first goal was a real hammer-blow, the second (which, of course, should never had happened but Maurice Deegan – who was worse than dreadful today – inexplicably failed to give us a close-in free and Donegal swept downfield to score) even more so but neither of these setbacks were fatal. We fought like demons – surviving a potential knock-out blow when David Clarke pulled off a superb one-on-one save – and we gradually inched our way back into the contest. But we needed a goal if we were to put it up to them properly and we never came close to getting one.
Indeed, despite all the possession and all the chances we had, we never got closer than three points to them and, deep down, as the second half ticked by it never looked like we would be able to pull this one from the fire. Donegal closed out the game in a calm and efficient way and they’re fully deserving of their first All-Ireland title for twenty years.
We shouldn’t, however, be downcast this evening. We have a team that could – if we see the kind of incremental improvement in 2013 that we did this year compared to last – push on and use the invaluable learning that comes as a kind of free add-on to today’s defeat to challenge for the ultimate prize again next summer. We were close but not close enough today but with a bit of improvement there’s no reason why we couldn’t be back giving it a right rattle again next year.
I’m not going to deliberate further on the game at this stage – my head is all over the shop, I can’t get any kind of coherent thoughts set down here and I have the practical matter of the post-match banquet at the Regency to go to shortly. I’ve also realised that I’m hungry … and thirsty too.
So, I’ll sign off for now but not before paying fulsome tribute to James and the lads for everything they’ve done for the cause this year. Those of us who just slope up on the day itself can only guess at the sheer amount of hard work, dedication and self-denial that must surely have gone into getting the team as far as today’s final. As I said yesterday, they are still our lads and we should be as proud of them now as we were in the raucous moments before throw-in.
We’ll learn from today, we’ll improve and we’ll come again. We always do.
Mayo: David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle; Barry Moran, Aidan O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin (0-2), Jason Doherty, Alan Dillon; Enda Varley (0-2, frees), Cillian O’Connor (0-5, frees), Michael Conroy (0-1). Subs: Alan Freeman for Doherty, Jason Gibbons (0-1) for Conroy, Richie Feeney (0-1) for Varley, Seamus O’Shea for Moran.