Dublin… 0-14 (aet)
It had to happen sometime. They were always the most likely ones to do it too. And for very personal reasons in this seat, gut feeling in the lead up was that today might be the day. All eras must end.
AP McCoy eventually hung up the saddle, Sir Alex Ferguson got tired of squeaky bum time, the Dubliners hung up the mic. Last night, the greatest team Gaelic football has seen went to the well but the bucket came up dry.
Before the game, much of the conjecture surrounded Dublin supposedly coming back to the pack. That the aura was slipping. Methinks not so much. In the first half, they looked every bit the marauding machine they have been for the last decade.
Brian Fenton ruled the skies which have been his domain for what seemed an eternity. Dean Rock and Cormac kept the engine whirring as Dessie Farrell’s team had established a 0-10 to 0-04 cushion. At that stage, there was nothing to suggest the good ship blue was about to run aground.
However, a big part of what has made this generation of Mayo footballers some of the most admired sportspeople in the country is their redoubtable spirit. They simply do not know when they’re beaten. Giving up simply isn’t their DNA. Anything that’s worth waiting for never comes easy. But it also requires patience and courage in equal measure.
It’s beyond question that the central tenet of what has made the Mayo story possible has been the quiet, unshakeable influence of their Manager, James Horan. Panic never seems to enter his lexicon. At the same time, you get the impression the Mayo players would go through a brick wall for him. On top of that, he had the belief the belief in his own ability and judgement to make the big decisions.
When it comes to ballsy decisions, they don’t get much more seismic than withdrawing your team’s fulcrum, captain and recognised leader. Yet midway through the second half, with the green and red still a long way from salvation, Aidan O’Shea was called ashore and obviously not happy about it.
Maybe, just maybe, mind you, it was the greatest act of sports psychology seen since Al Paccino’s ‘Inches’ speech. An invitation and/or plea to the rest of them to stand up and seize the evening. Dear God did they, on and off the field.
You almost forgot about social distancing and reduced capacity and the other impositions Covid-19 has put on life. You saw it happening, maybe even before it actually did. Still you wondered was it real. The green and red tide began to swallow up the blue wave. The old ground shook again let it hadn’t in what felt like forever.
In time, you forgot Aidan O’Shea wasn’t there. His brother Conor came in and put his shoulder to the wheel, Padraig O’Hora gave a display at corner back that some of the greats to have played there would have loved to have beside their names. Ken Mortimer, Chris Barrett and Keith Higgins among them. For all that Brian Fenton was as per usual immense for Dublin, Matthew Ruane went one rung higher on the ladder.
For the entirety of Dublin’s unprecedented era of utter dominance, certain aspects of their very makeup have been non-negotiable. Primary among them that the Ciaran Kilkenny/Con O’Callaghan axis was the basis on which all their attacking brilliance was founded. Here, through O’Hora and Lee Keegan and Paddy Durcan they shut down that avenue.
Thus repeatedly turning over possession and thereby allowing a swathe of Mayo warriors – Keegan, Durcan, Ruane, Conor Loftus and, in particular, Tommy Conroy, haul themselves back from the precipice yet again. However, all the while, the striking thing was that at no stage did Dublin look like finishing the job off. Another simple example of the aura dropping about, possibly. The simplest things are often the most obvious.
Like the millisecond of composure David Byrne couldn’t find to prevent the ’45’ which, eventually, kept the West awake for anther bit longer. Yet for all that the newer troops played their part in keeping the vessel afloat, there was something emotionally fitting that it was one of the long serving generals who hauled them to safety.
Perhaps nobody deserved that moment of redemption than Robbie Hennelly. The Breaffy man has been at the centre of more of the heartache Mayo have endured over the last decade or so. Clemency doesn’t come easy, mind you.
The spectacle of goalkeepers kicking long range frees has become more common. The merits or otherwise of that are a topic for another day, but, what is certain is that ‘keepers have got better at it. Be that as it may, converting one to save your side’s skin with what you knew was the last kick of the game.
Not that it were needed, but, the breeder of some very use race mares including Moyhenna, had to deal with even more drama whrn the kick was ordered to be re-taken after Niall Scully jogged across his run-up. It was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Hennelly split the posts imperiously and, though Sean Buglar did slalom through to put the blues in front right at the start of extra time, shortly thereafter the sands shifted again.
Usually, it’s those who manage to extricate their backsides from the bacon slicer that get the impetus from the reprieve. That was indeed the case here but even the most ardent devotee of the green and red wouldn’t dare to dream they would assume control to the extent they did.
Then again, the most passionate and fanatical Mayo supporter there was could only observe from the Ard Comhairle seats in the sky. Myles Fahey, Mayo man, Dunboyne man, GAA man, leader of men and cherished and fierecly loyal friend was taken from us far too early this week.
Gone with his lifetime ambition of seeing his beloved Mayo lift Sam unfulfilled. It could be written in the stars though. Maybe this year Miley, maybe this year.