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THERE can be no doubting the story of the week in the north-west . . . and probably the country as well. Memories of Mayo’s victory – and Dublin’s defeat – in that epic All-Ireland semi-final clash in Croke Park on Saturday will prevail in the annals of GAA history well into the future. The westerners had finally defeated the six-time All-Ireland champions, who were experiencing their first defeat in championship football since 2014.
To say this was truly an amazing game is an understatement. In their Connacht final win over Galway, Mayo came out in the second half a transformed team. Few believed they had the capacity to do so again, particularly against a seasoned outfit like Dublin, who were six points to the good and, apparently, sailing to victory at half-time.
Even as the second half progressed and Mayo were clawing their way back into the game, a Dublin capitulation seemed unlikely. It seemed that Dublin’s system of deliberately slowing up the play, holding onto possession and frustrating the opposition would see them through. But when we examine what happened on Saturday in Croke Park the Shakespearean expression “Hoist with one’s own petard” comes to mind. As Mayo applied the pressure in the second half Dublin’s system seemed to run completely out of rope, evidenced particularly in the incident when a Dublin defender was forced to deflect the ball over his own end line, leading to the “45” which Rob Hennelly eventually converted. Unlike heretofore, this Mayo team seemed to possess boundless energy and when they began to turn the tables, scuppering Dublin by their own schemes, the Leinster champions had no answer and began to adopt some uncharacteristically cynical measures as they ran out of steam in extra time.
An example of Mayo’s resolve was epitomised in an extraordinary feat of flexibility by Diarmuid O’Connor when he prevented another Hennelly free from crossing the end line, deflecting it infield and towards the sideline, to be picked up by Kevin McLoughlin, who converted a glorious point at a crucial time in the game.
Six points in arrears, the pundits gave little chance to Mayo at half-time. But here manager James Horan has to be complimented on his game management – the ability to make appropriate changes at the correct times and get his match-ups right. The substitution of captain Aiden O’Shea and the introduction of young, vibrant and pacey players like Enda Hession and Bryan Walsh provided the impetus needed as the game progressed. The much-vaunted Dublin “bench” proved just a shadow of what Mayo had to offer and we now understand what Horan meant when he spoke about the strength and depth of his squad.
In that unforgettable first period of extra time it was Mayo that possessed the energy reserves and scooped the turnovers, providing the fuel for four unanswered points - the game’s most spectacular scores - from Tommy Conroy (2), Coen and O’Donoghue – to put the game beyond Dublin’s reach. It was at this point, too, that the influence of Keegan, Durcan and the amazing Padraig O’Hora came to the fore, particularly Keegan, who had one of his greatest days in the Mayo jersey, with vital interceptions and challenges as well as forward movements. They snuffed out any possibility of a late recovery by Dublin, who looked a spent force at that stage.
Of course, it’s not all over yet. Both Kerry and Tyrone still have a say in the destination of Sam for 2021. But Mayo deserve a short respite to relish such a sweet victory over the old adversary.
It is also appropriate to compliment a fine Roscommon team for a gallant performance, before coming up just short against a highly-talented Offaly team in the U-20 All-Ireland championship. Let’s hope they continue to progress and form the nucleus of the Roscommon senior team going forward, raising the general standard of football in the province.