James Crombie/INPHO
Dominant Dubs

Ruthless Dublin always find a way to win and end any dreams of a 2020 sporting breakthrough

Mayo had drawn level in the 50th minute but Dublin were not to be stopped.

THIS TIME there was no wild outbreaks of joy, a communal celebration in front of a packed Hill 16, like they did back in 2011 when this run of domination began or in 2019 when they achieved the immortal feat of five-in-a-row.

Post match in Croke Park was a private affair for the Dublin footballers last night, a new experience for a team so accustomed to success. They looked around at the empty stands and terraces, watched as the new man that has guided them in 2020 got his hands on Sam Maguire a quarter of a century after he achieved that as a player, and let the realisation sink in that it was at the unseasonal time of a cold Saturday night in December that they were crowned champions.

But a change in atmosphere, manager and scheduling cannot alter the hard fact that Dublin are the number one team in the country. For the sixth successive year they are at the head of the pack.

Was it ever likely to be different?

dessie-farrell-lifts-the-sam-maguire Ryan Byrne / INPHO Dessie Farrell lifts the Sam Maguire. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

2020 has been a strange and emotional time. The will of Mayo hordes at home and most neutrals may have been that the year would close on a uplifting sporting note with the end of the country’s most-documented sporting famine.

But Dublin have little time for sentiment and are more interested in applying logic.

You could draw parallels neatly with last Sunday’s showdown.

A warm favourite in one corner with a strong recent winning mentality. The underdog in opposition, carrying the hopes of a county desperate to end a long barren spell.

Limerick dismantled Waterford’s ambitions then, over these past few seasons they have tended to find a way to secure victory.

Six days on and Dublin did likewise to Mayo. They always find a way to win.

You could have made a case for them looking unsettled during this All-Ireland final and yet their response on each occasion had to be factored in. They trailed 0-8 to 1-3 in the 21st minute, Mayo starting to whip up some momentum and then Dublin pounced for their second goal as Con O’Callaghan slapped the ball home.

con-ocallaghan-scores-his-sides-second-goal-despite-goalkeeper-david-clarke James Crombie / INPHO Con O'Callaghan scores Dublin's second goal against Mayo. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Dublin lost Robbie McDaid to a black card just before the break when they went in two up and yet only lost the period after half-time by 0-3 to 0-2 when operating with 14 men. Mayo again charged at them to draw level, 2-8 to 0-14, in the 50th minute and then Dublin summoned the response to outscore them by 0-6 to 0-1 for the rest of the night.

Jonny Cooper pointed to experience afterwards as central to their composure in those situations. If other teams find their heads scrambled in such situations, they have minimal impact on Dublin’s collective focus. Think of their response against Kerry in last year’s final or when trailing by two to Mayo at the interval in last year’s semi-final. 

As admirable and as competitive as Mayo were last night, did it ever feel as if they were on the cusp of something? The timing of the goals they shipped were hugely damaging. James McCarthy accelerated clear of Aidan O’Shea from the throw-in, the Mayo defensive shape was poor in not protecting against Dublin winning that possession, just as Kerry were for Eoin Murchan’s goal in last year’s replay, and from there Mayo were prised apart.

Then after producing a monumental effort to win the next 20 minutes by 0-8 to 0-3, including wiping out the concession of that goal within two minutes, that gutsy Mayo response was undone by the second goal. Again Dublin’s interplay was slick yet they availed of two slight mistakes by Mayo players – Cillian O’Connor momentarily rushing towards O’Callaghan initially and leaving Scully free behind, while Diarmuid O’Connor reacted late in stationing himself in front of David Clarke’s goal.

Dublin will always punish those errors, finding a way to get big scores during phases when they may not be hitting full speed in their play.

They withstood the blows from Mayo. O’Connor’s supreme marksmanship in the first half, he was arguably the best player on the pitch in the first 25 minutes. The energy and life of Ryan O’Donoghue as he zipped around the forward line in the first half to impressive effect. The towering play of Oisín Mullin who went toe to toe with O’Callaghan and produced a remarkable display for a 20-year-old. 

con-ocallaghan-with-oisin-mullin Morgan Treacy / INPHO Con O'Callaghan and Oisin Mullin in action during Dubiln's meeting with Mayo. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Dublin coped with all that, got the game to the final quarter and then killed it dead. They got a couple of breaks with Cooper escaping sanction for a foul on Aidan O’Shea while Michael Fitzsimons withering hit on Lee Keegan was on replays a frontal challenge that should have resulted in a straightforward free for O’Connor.

Still it was difficult to dispute that Dublin would have gained an inevitable grip of this. It helped that their generational players all stepped forward, Ciarán Kilkenny landing some brilliant pressure-relieving points. O’Callaghan contributed that invaluable goal. Brian Fenton came strong at midfield, James McCarthy’s influence was pronounced throughout. John Small and Niall Scully are the understated team leaders in different pitch sectors.

And they pushed in their top-class reserves from the sideline. Brian Howard and Paul Mannion have won five All-Stars between them over the last three campaigns. It seems incongruous not to start them but what other team in the country could afford such a luxury? They came in here and swung this game, Howard introduced at half-time and Mannion sent in after 50 minutes. 

Mannion kicked a free, linked the attacks in the right corner and gave Mayo’s defence another headache to consider. Howard was immense around the middle, with his aerial ability from kickouts. Both kicked points and were at the heart of the control Dublin exerted down the stretch.

Unlike the heart-stopping finales of 2016 and 2017, there was no sense of jeopardy surrounding the result in the closing stages. There has been no doubt in the finale of any of Dublin’s games in 2020, victory safely wrapped up before the last whistle against Westmeath, Laois, Meath, Cavan and Mayo in turn. 

That level of dominance is not a positive position for the sport and there remain serious issues at play heading into 2021. Mayo’s spirit and aggression in pushing Dublin into a contest for three quarters of this game cannot mask that truth.

There are other salient points. The achievements of Dublin’s group that reached the eight medal mark deserves to be lauded. At 30 years of age, James McCarthy is a remarkable football figure who looks comfortably on course to reach double digits in that regard.

Dessie Farrell has ensured a seamless transition as manager. Even in as turbulent and uncomfortable a season as 2020 was, Dublin’s position at the top has not wavered.

Whenever they face a gut check in the heat of a match, they always find a way to come out on top.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel