There was this great scene in the second season of Prison Break, when the lads had just busted out of Fox River and the reprehensible T-Bag had foolishly parted company for a time with his hand. Having got a vet to reattach it, T-Bag showed his gratitude by informing his hapless helper that he was going to bump him off. As he was about to administer a DIY lethal injection, our recidivist friend tried to console his victim with some platitudes about how Native Indians warriors believed that when they killed an enemy warrior, they subsumed the dead warrior’s soul into their own. “You’re with me now, Doc” proclaimed our jail-breaking friend as he plunged the lethal cocktail into the poor old dog doctor’s arm.
I was thinking about that scene as the yesterday’s match was about to get underway. Tyrone bumped us off two weeks ago and so, in the Native American sense, I guess that made us part of the Red Hand contingent at a wet and wintry Croke Park yesterday afternoon. If that were the case – and I suppose most Mayo fans wouldn’t have needed any promptings from the Arapaho to have been rooting for the Northerners yesterday – then they had an enjoyable day. I had mixed feelings myself, given that my little Dubs were obviously looking to see a home win, but, like many other Mayo fans yesterday, Tyrone’s demolition job on Dublin made me think again about our own performance against the Red Handers two weeks ago.
Tyrone were magnificent yesterday and looked utterly transformed compared to the dull, uninspired bunch that managed to scrape by us a fortnight ago. So what can explain the metamorphosis? I think a number of factors come into play, such as match scheduling (which, like a drunken driver careering along a crowded road, is always going to have a significant impact on proceedings), the hype machine that once again built up an average Dublin team into world-beaters, Alan Brogan’s injury, Mickey Harte’s tactical acumen, Pillar’s complete lack of same and, yet again, some quixotic refereeing. Mix it all together and what do you get? A twelve-point hammering for the Dubs, that’s what.
The decision to put this match back a week undoubtedly affected the Dubs’ preparation and meant that, unlike Kildare last Sunday, Tyrone weren’t forced to line out on four successive weekends. I’d’ve no sympathy for the Dubs on this one: if they wanted their own day out, then they had to be prepared to wait the extra week for it but, of course, that did mean another week of hanging around waiting for the next game whereas Tyrone got some precious time to regroup and recover from the three hard games they’d just played. Yesterday showed was that match scheduling can have a big impact on the outcome but sure didn’t we know that already, in a championship that leaves teams sitting on their holes for up to ten weeks and then sends them out to play for four weekends on the trot after that?
The hype machine – which made Dublin 1/3 to win the game – provided Tyrone with all the cover they needed to get to Croker completely under the radar. Some gobshite on NewsTalk was asking people to text in on Friday with their views on how “the Dublin-Kerry final” would go and it’s obvious that, with Wexford to come in the semis, thoughts around here were already firmly focused on September. On Friday night, I read in the paper that Tyrone had 12 All-Ireland medalists on their team whereas Dublin had just one, the evergreen Jayo. And still the Dubs were odds-on to win.
It’s amazing how the hype machine succeeds every year in building up a limited team into a bunch of supermen. It suits the papers, of course, as every year they spend half the time building the team up and the rest explaining their downfall. And, of course, they do the voting in the All-Stars which last year produced the ridiculous situation of handing awards to three players – Cluxton, Brogan and Whelan – who had all choked at the vital moment in the semi-final against Kerry. But the problem for Dublin is that the hype machine is of no use to them once the ball is thrown in and the manner of their deconstruction by Tyrone yesterday illustrated this in the most brutal manner possible.
It’s impossible to know how the match might have played out had Alan Brogan not got injured but the simple fact is that he did and Dublin disintegrated in his absence. I don’t think it would have made much difference had he stayed on as his replacement, his younger brother Bernard, was one of Dublin’s better players and the only one of their forwards to show any kind of spark all day. Tyrone seemed to have their homework done on Dublin’s fifteen and those plans would, I’m sure, have included how to deal with Dublin’s most dangerous forward. Had Brogan played for the full seventy minutes, the margin of victory may not have been as big as twelve points but Tyrone would probably still have had plenty to spare on them at the end.
As was the case on the pitch, there was no contest where it came to smarts on the sideline yesterday. Mickey Harte laid effective plans to nullify Dublin’s two most intelligent operators – Jayo and Shane Ryan – and his boys were obviously also given instructions to rough up Whelan at every opportunity. In contrast, Pillar put poor old Ross McConnell on Sean Cavanagh and, almost as bad, deployed Collie Moran to mark Brian Dooher (perhaps on the basis that Dooher had done bugger all against us). Surprise, surprise – Harte’s tactics worked a treat and Pillar’s acted like well-directed shots into his foot but, once it was clear that the match was spinning away from them, Pillar was unable to effect any changes to improve matters. Harte’s bench was far better and every change he made just turned the screw that little bit further on the hapless Dubs.
The one straw the Dubs could grab at to explain their defeat, if they were so minded to do this, was the refereeing performance though I’m not sure this would have come close to saving them either. The big complaint they had was that Cavanagh clearly overcarried for Tyrone’s opening goal and had it been ruled out, Dublin might have steadied the ship sufficiently to withstand what came after. And Cavanagh could arguably have walked for the job he did on Whelan but the Raheny man should have got the line for that disgraceful clothes-line tackle on Joe McMahon soon after (Whelo specialises in those, doesn’t he?). Cahill and Keaney should also have been red-carded in the second half for committing yellow card offences having already been booked but an “ah sure they have enough troubles, the poor feckers” view of the rules from the Kerryman in the middle meant that this didn’t happen.
In the final analysis, Dublin were well and truly stuffed – it was their worst championship defeat in thirty years, since Kerry annihilated them in the 1978 final – and the fact that it was a team that we failed narrowly to a fortnight ago that did the stuffing has to make us feel a bit better about ourselves. Could we have beaten Dublin? Well, we couldn’t beat Tyrone (or, indeed, Galway) so it’s all a bit academic now. We certainly gave Tyrone a far better game than the Dubs did yesterday but that doesn’t change the fact that we made our championship exit two weeks ago. However, if the Red Handers do now go on and complete their own three-in-a-row on the Kerrymen next month – and they might, you know, they just might – then the reflected glory we’d get to feel would certainly help to tide us over the winter and assist in germinating all those delusional feelings about our prospects for 2009.
Meanwhile, the women did us proud once again yesterday. Playing in atrocious conditions, they racked up a winning scoreline of 2-12 and many of those points came from beyond the range that their male counterparts were able to score from in fine weather two weeks ago. And they beat Kerry, in Croke Park and all – now that’s a fine target for the lads to match next year.