Up until this evening, no team had laid a glove on Dublin in this year’s Championship. We gave the all-conquering Metropolitans a decent rattle in this final but ultimately it wasn’t enough as we lost out by five points.
Unlike those heart-wrenching one-point losses we’d suffered to them the last three times we played them in the decider, Dublin had a clear margin of victory on us this time. They were better than us and were full value for the win. It’s as simple as that.
So at the top it’s only right to congratulate Dublin on yet another All-Ireland success. The bulk of their squad are laden down with Celtic crosses at this stage but their hunger and desire to win shows precious few signs of dimming.
There’s an easy rationale for Dublin’s win this evening. Goals often do win games and the two first half ones they got went a long way towards the five-point win they ultimately achieved.
While the goals weren’t fatal in themselves from our perspective they put the champions on the front foot at crucial times, forcing us to push hard to stay with them.
The more we pushed, the more errors crept into our game, especially after the break. Passes got misplaced, shots dropped short and the scores we needed to get to keep the pressure on them didn’t materialise.
Dublin, by contrast, became more fluid as the game went on. They got a big lift from their bench with the introduction of Howard and Mannion, two changes that strengthened them.
Our switches didn’t have the same positive effect. I’ve no idea what the problem was with Paddy Durcan but his withdrawal from the fray at half-time was obviously a blow for us. His replacement, Michael Plunkett, did fine in defence but Paddy’s loss further up the pitch was felt. None of the other changes we made gave us any additional momentum either.
When Dublin had the ball in the net from Rock after just 14 seconds – the fastest goal ever scored in an All-Ireland final – it looked as if this was going to be an extremely grim evening for us.
To our credit, though, we battled back really well, cancelling out that goal with three quick points and it was still all-square at the first water break.
Key to this was the performances of Oisín Mullin and Ryan O’Donoghue, both of whom drove at the opposition with abandon. We were winning the restart battle then too, forcing Dublin to survive on far less possession than they’re normally used to.
Cillian O’Connor was giving Byrne the run-around inside. When he caught his second mark in as many minutes close to the posts and fired over, we were two to the good and visibly growing in confidence.
But then, in a flash, Dublin cut us open for a second goal. It was a cleverly-worked score too, O’Callaghan slipping the ball to Scully and then peeling away into space in front of the goal into which Scully lofted a perfectly weighted handpass back to him. O’Callaghan’s fisted strike was like a tennis smash, the goal putting them back in front by a point.
They were two up at the break. Just before half-time, though, they lost McDaid to a black card, giving us the chance to profit from the extra man early in the second half.
That didn’t happen, though, as Dublin reverted to a keep-ball approach for those ten minutes, which we spent largely chasing shadows. By the time McDaid was readying to come back on, they were still in front, albeit just by a point.
It was then that ref David Coldrick appeared to get two big calls wrong in quick succession. Cooper could easily have got a black for the way he dragged back and tripped Aidan O’Shea but the ref opted simply to note the foul. Then a mistimed shoulder by Fitzsimons caught Lee Keegan straight in the chest but the ref waved play on for what looked a borderline straight red card offence.
Those decisions weren’t, though, in any sense decisive to the outcome of the game. It was then, however, that the momentum swung back in Dublin’s direction and, once it did, they gradually pulled clear of us.
In a ten-minute spell leading up to the hour mark they scored four without reply, sucking the life out of our challenge as they did so. We only got one more point before the finish – from substitute Darren Coen – and once they’d added another from Kilkenny they were content to hold possession for as long as possible to see out what was in the end a fairly comfortable win.
Losing this one – our tenth final defeat since we last won it – doesn’t feel as bad as many of the others did. Maybe it’s the resigned air of inevitability about it – I do fear we may be witnessing the final years of the inter-county game in football – but it’s also that the what-might-have-been aspect of those one-point final losses to Dublin isn’t a factor this time.
Putting my more optimistic hat on, we can say that the year has been a good one for us. We brought through loads of new players, we won Connacht for the first time in five years and we made it to the All-Ireland final. Despite League relegation, that makes for a positive year in my book.
All the more so in light of the year it’s been. James Horan and his team brightened the mood for Mayo people everywhere in what otherwise has been a very dark and forbidding time for all of us. We owe them all a big debt of gratitude for this.
So, that’s it for 2020. We’ll go again – of course we will – when the time comes for us to do so. But we need to get over the Christmas first. Up Mayo.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Oisín Mullin (0-1), Lee Keegan; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen (0-1, mark), Eoghan McLaughlin; Conor Loftus (0-1), Mattie Ruane; Kevin McLoughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor; Tommy Conroy, Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor (0-9, five frees and two marks). Subs: Michael Plunkett for Paddy Durcan, James Carr for Conroy, Darren Coen (0-1) for O’Donoghue, Jordan Flynn for Loftus, James Durcan for McLaughlin.
Who was our MOTM against Dublin? Pick your top three performers
- Oisin Mullin (29%, 1,033 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (18%, 645 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (14%, 519 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (11%, 409 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (7%, 241 Votes)
- David Clarke (4%, 155 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (4%, 128 Votes)
- Mattie Ruane (2%, 88 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (2%, 81 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (2%, 75 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (2%, 55 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (1%, 36 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 28 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 23 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (1%, 20 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 16 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (0%, 15 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 12 Votes)
- James Carr (0%, 12 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 11 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,023