He’s been previewing matches right through the championship season but I’m now delighted to welcome JPM back into the guest slot to provide his considered analysis on the All-Ireland final and where we go from here.
When Donegal took to the field the first impression I got was how big they physically were. I mean they looked gigantic. It wasn’t the tight jerseys or anything else to make them intentionally appear bigger than they were. It was a simple fact. To me they appeared bigger than Cork.
Paddy McBrearty and his frame came into view. I then glanced at the programme and according to his dimensions Paddy was around 12 or 13 stone. I thought – fuck that! No way can that be accurate. Then the rest of the team began jogging up and down in front of me. And apart from Mark McHugh they all looked enormous. The conclusion I came to was that the program was bollox. These guys may have been those heights and weights at one stage, but they were now different beasts.
Then they began their warm-ups. Racing up and down the field at 100 miles an hour, hand-passing from left to right – again and again. I glanced at our lads and we were comfortably kicking balls around and over the bar and trying to stay relaxed before the match.
Were we too relaxed before this All-Ireland? If we analyse the tactics for the game it must be said that Jim McGuinness got his calls right from the start. Putting Michael Murphy into the FF line and pulling out McBrearty left a two-on-two with loads of space for the big men to exploit. We all acknowledge in hindsight that we should have had a cover man back there. But it was too late putting him in after 15 minutes or so. The damage was already done.
Liam McHale expressed in an article that the team were lacking proper preparation for the game. This was highlighted and castigated by some. However the fact is that Liam was only expressing his opinion. I think he was right to come out and say it at the outset. James did get it wrong in not having an extra defender on the full-back line. I also think a lot of the article can be put down to just pure frustration and initial disappointment. Let’s be honest about it. Every Mayo fan reading this was frustrated and disappointed after that All-Ireland.
The second question is were we physically able for this Donegal team? Personally I implied in my match preview that I thought we were not given enough credit for beating Dublin and that their second-half comeback was as much down to our lads going off injured as anything else.
However now in hindsight I did not give enough credit to the pace, ferocity and intensity of the Dublin second half display. We simply couldn’t (and really didn’t) live with it. This is the same intensity that Donegal brought to the final – except it was there from the outset of the match. And like it or not, again we couldn’t live with it. We did have strategies in place to deal with the Donegal counter attack in holding back our half-back line to stop their obvious numerical counter-attacking breakthroughs.
However Donegal were still able to get up and down the pitch at ease. And they didn’t seem to run out of steam at all. Even when we broke them down in our defence and tried our own quick counter-attacks, they were there time and again to dismantle us. Donegal have a fabulous rearguard system where they seem to have spare men always available to tackle anyone.
People on the site have claimed that Andy Moran would have been the difference inside however I disagree. Fantastic and all as Andy is he cannot do it on his own. And the simple fact was that Mark McHugh was always there to mop up any low ball going through the middle alongside Neil McGee ably taking care of everything else that came in over the top.
Also we were all told about how fit our team are but there is no way are we the fittest team in the country. Dublin based on their second half are above us and Donegal are simply three or four rungs further up the ladder again. I remarked to several people after the match that this Donegal team would probably beat any of the provincial rugby teams. They are just that fit and physical. I don’t know what Donegal are doing or taking to reach this level of physical strength and fitness. (Frankly to me it’s actually suspicious).
What do we have to do to catch up to them? I’m not sure but matching Donegal’s physicality and fitness is key to competing at the same level. And all the top counties are definitely thinking the same. Because realistically if you are punching above your weight you can probably live for 40 (maybe 50) minutes. Eventually however you will become exhausted and collapse.
The problem for Mayo (even more so now that we have lost Cian O’Neill) is to first of all regroup and then re-focus and strive to continue up the ladder. The bigger problem is there is a chance after this defeat that we will either remain at the plateau we’re currently at, or worse – slip off it back to where we were two or even three years ago.
So what else beat us? Well if you have reviewed the match once more you must have noticed how difficult it was for our lads to get scores from play. Kevin McLoughlin had to beat nearly 3 men before he got our opener and that was a hurried kick with three more Donegal guys bearing down on him. It’s a testament to the guy that he has the ability under that level of pressure to kick from the outside of the boot over the bar. It was the same with both Michael Conroy’s and Enda Varley’s points from play in the first half. Both were phenomenal kicks from very difficult angles and under astonishing pressure. The same can be said of our scores from play in the second half. Richie Feeney for example was again under incredible pressure in getting off that shot.
However you can’t hope to keep depending on inspirational scores like these throughout 70 minutes. Any easier opportunities must also be converted. And we missed several kickable frees. In the first half Enda and Cillian both chose to kick from the hand and missed one free apiece. Michael Murphy elected to kick his frees off the ground in the second half from the same distance and scored them. And in the process he kept Donegal ticking along.
Enda missed a vital free early in the second half as well. Make no mistake now; I’m not singling him out for personal criticism. In my opinion none of our big name guys played or were allowed to play their best games. Donal, Keith and Alan were all largely anonymous in the match or were simply not allowed get on the ball enough to have a serious impact on the game. And to win an All-Ireland you simply have to have your top players performing at their best and displaying this on the field.
Donegal also did get the luck in this All-Ireland. The second goal was a real dagger in the gut for us. Some people chose to blame the referee for that goal but that’s simply not accurate. Sure, it was a free for Cillian at the other end however the ball passed through at least 6 Donegal players before it came back off the post to be knocked fortuitously into McFadden’s hands for that shot. No way can you blame the ref for that. It was bad defending and bad luck that surrounded that goal.
Finally there have been a lot of the comments in the past week or so regarding feelings going forward after losing this All-Ireland. Certainly people are probably justified to reflect on their position especially considering what has befallen us in the last 25-odd years. So, yes, I can see where many are coming from on being downcast. But, folks, no way can we let it rule us. Jesus we’re fragile enough but for a GAA person to become indifferent towards his/her county in an All-Ireland final is probably the worst scenario imaginable.
So finally let’s examine a couple of questions regards ourselves.
Q. Who are we in GAA terms?
A. We’re a county somewhat stranded out on the West coast who can compete at the top but are usually beaten in All-Ireland finals.
But Fuck Me we’re one resilient bunch of bastards!! Lord knows we have been in this position before and have always come back from it. And this is one thing that they can never take off us.
Q. Can the team get up and do it once more? This is the bigger question.
A. Certainly this team is young enough and there is undoubtedly enough other talent in the county if we can only harness it and find the right balance.
Personally I would issue a call to arms to fellas who have been there in recent years and have fallen by the wayside a little. They need to consider coming back to re-enforce this team. We need to get back up there and compete. It’s who we are and frankly, it’s where we should be. We have proved in the past two years of James Horan’s tenure that we can take down and beat any other team in the country.
So our county has to move on from this setback, and refuse to back down. As Mayo GAA people we all know what we desire most. It’s perpetuated in our blood and you can’t get rid of it no matter how much draining you do. The draw for the 2013 championship takes place this Thursday evening folks and that’s when we should be starting to look forward once more! After all it’s only one of the things our magnificent county deserves.