YESTERDAY WAS THE strangest game I have ever been at in Croke Park.
Of all the scenarios people would have envisaged, no one in their wildest dreams would have considered a game with two own goals, where Dublin scored no points in the first half hour and where after all that, it was Mayo who finished the strongest with the last three points of the game to draw level
The football certainly was not top class. But there was no shortage of entertainment. It was a heart stopping finale. When the final whistle went, you were nearly gasping for breath yourself and that was just sitting in the stand.
It was so intense from start to finish. We’re constantly hearing this talk of how bad the game of Gaelic football is gone. You start to think maybe there is something to that argument but yesterday had everything you wanted.
In slippery conditions, the manliness and honesty of the set of players was magnificent. They tore lumps out of each other, shook hands after and went away to get ready for round two.
Mayo came and blitzed Dublin from the start but the own goals were just crazy. They came totally against the run of play. I haven’t seen own goals like that at any level of Gaelic football before. I felt before the game Mayo needed a clean sheet and to sneak a goal themselves to win.
They didn’t achieve either of those aims and yet they’re still in the championship. That’s due a lot to a really strange performance by Dublin. I kept on thinking that Dublin’s purple patch would come during the game but it never arrived.
They were still in a winning position when they went three points up in injury-time and it’s that reason why I’d really commend Mayo for battling all the way to the finish.
The Mayo fans that I was talking to coming out after the game were in good spirits. The performance should give Mayo huge belief. They have nothing to lose and have proven that physically they can match them all over the field.
Mayo had a couple of huge performers in defence. Patrick Durcan was brilliant, Brendan Harrison was immense. Half a chance is usually all Bernard Brogan needs but Harrison had him under control from the start.
At the other end Cillian O’Connor stood up when they really needed. He caught my eye when Andy Moran went off. It was a time where I wondered about the movement inside from Mayo but Cillian provided that.
He came looking for the ball, he wanted it, he sought to get his team going. That’s the sort of inspiration you want from your captain and your main scorer. Trust me to get a kick like that at the end of a huge game in Croke Park was just phenomenal.
Mayo’s old stagers, Andy Moran and Alan Dillon, certainly didn’t let their side down. Andy ran himself into the ground, over and back across the full-forward line time and time again. In a close game maybe it was a good idea taking him off. He nearly crawled to the line and was clearly exhausted.
Alan Dillon didn’t start but made his mark when he came on, even if it was such a brief spell on the pitch. It was unfortunate that he got injured when he ran into Cian O’Sullivan. Just beforehand he’d kicked a great point for Mayo.
When a game settles down, Alan is the type of player who is liable to kick two or three points. That could have been a game changer for Mayo.
Early on I thought Aidan O’Shea was a big player and was on a serious amount of ball. His influence then died a little though as the game wore on. I felt all week he had to have a big, big game for Mayo to win. He didn’t play badly but I felt he had to have a bigger impact. That will be a goal for the replay.
It was such an odd game for Dublin to analyse. So many of their marquee players, their proven game winners and guys we know can change the course of a game, they were simply below par.
I looked at Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon and Paul Flynn in open play, and they were very quiet. Dean Rock wasn’t his usual prolific self from frees.
Lee Keegan kept Diarmuid Connolly very quiet. Paddy Andrews kicked two massive scores but he was anonymous in the second-half. That’s a serious amount of attacking players to under-perform.
The flipside was the performance of three of Dublin’s younger players. John Small was simply excellent at wing-back. Brian Fenton lead the line around midfield really well.
Ciaran Kilkenny was immense, he’s like the conductor of the orchestra. The closing stages epitomised his performance. The last sideline Connolly took, Kilkenny wanted the ball, to take the responsibility, to keep the possession.
Jim Gavin doesn’t say much after matches but he was quite interesting yesterday. I was working at the game for RTÉ Radio and on the station after the game, it was put to him that Dublin’s performance was six out of ten. Jim responded by saying, ‘you’re being very kind to us there’.
He was very straight and very honest. I’ve never heard him talking like that before, you don’t expect it. But I admired his honesty as well, he didn’t hide from a Dublin performance that was down from their high standards.
So many times in the past, we have seen that the underdog have one shot at it and they have got to take it on the day. I don’t buy into that here and still think that they have a huge chance.
At the same time, can we see Dublin under-performing to that level again? Those are the massive questions. Saturday week will reveal all.
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