It is said that you can get used to almost anything. At half-time in the recent semi-final I was talking to two of my three sons (both Dubs) about the likely All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry. It was a pragmatic conversation where I expressed the desire that the Dubs would win that final, just so we could have another crack at knocking them off their perch in 2022.
In recent games the mad, wild, roaring Mayoman that they had known in their childhood and teen years had been replaced with a quieter person who could still roar with the best all the way to the Dublin game, but who would eventually be silenced by the end of the big day. And after 35 minutes, this match was shaping up that way.
I wrote a piece earlier this year about the way the Dubs analyse the opposition and how they use that analysis at half-time to plot the third quarter. As I sat with the lads in the Upper Davin, I remarked that Dublin didn’t have much to analyse from that first 35 minutes.
To a large extent, it was like the Leinster final. Kildare had tried to slow them down in the first half, but never sought to go out and beat them and they continued with this doomed strategy for the entire 70 minutes.
The only thing was, Mayo had had four wides and despite having much less possession, their number of shots had not been that far off Dublin. If only we could get on more ball, being six down might not be a total lost cause. Still though, it was a big ask.
Five minutes into the second half, it was obvious that Mayo were the outfit that had done the better analysis and the level of Mayo possession had increased. Mayo were getting stuck in and the Dubs were beginning to feel the pressure. As the ould buck on Dad’s Army used to say “They don’t like it up ‘em” and the Dubs were finding the constant waves of Mayo intensity to be difficult to contain.
However, they stuck to the plan and on the 60 minute-mark were still a comfortable looking five points clear. The odds were shortening on the Dubs to win pulling up and it looked like it would be another nearly day for Mayo.
But then, Diarmuid O’Connor showed what Mayo are all about. When he made the run for that unwinnable ball, stretched his leg out so far that in a way would injure a mere mortal, stopped an almost certain wide and created a chance that Kevin McLoughlin popped over, the mad, wild, roaring Mayoman suddenly reappeared.
There was six years of frustration in my reaction. Diarmuid O’Connor had signalled that he would NOT give up and I (with the thousands of other Mayo people there) was suddenly back on message. It didn’t matter that we were still four points down. The following scores were a blur, but I remember my eldest son turning to his brother and asked “Do you remember this guy?”, to which the reply was “Yes, and I’m glad he’s back!”
I roared myself hoarse until the end of the match, I sang “Green and Red of Mayo” at the top of what was left of my voice at the end and whooped loudly all the way out of the stadium.
WHAT A NIGHT!
In the days after the match, I read all of the commentary and listened to all of the podcasts but none really captured WHY we won. So, in the calmness of two weeks later, here’s my tuppence worth on why we won:
- James Horan has learned the difference between strategy and tactics. Tactically, he is now making the right calls and, crucially, he is listening to his management team during the game.
- Ciaran McDonald is a bloody genius. The utter chaos that seems to be our new trait is McDonald to the core. We no longer have just one player thinking like McDonald, all 26 on the sheet are following his template.
- Dublin fell into the trap of seeking perfection (No wides, no turnovers, no opposition scores, etc). They have proved the adage “Perfection is the Enemy of the Good”.
- When Dublin didn’t have anything to analyse at half-time, they were sent out with instructions to keep doing the same thing in the second half. Their entire “football by numbers” strategy was negated. No subsequent amount of analysis on how Mayo changed the game plan could be condensed into how to readjust in the breaks that followed.
- And finally, Mayo refused to give up and go quietly into the night. To paraphrase Charles Stewart Parnell: “No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of our county; no man has a right to say to Mayo – thus far shalt thou go and no further”.
I’m really looking forward to the final.