Firstly, scoring two goals in the first ten minutes of a game of gaelic football gives a team a considerable advantage. Secondly, even though those two goals can be worked back, especially if the scorers go into their shell a little bit rather than press home their advantage, it’s no real uses unless the opposition’s scoring chances are taken when they come.
And so it came to pass. Donegal, that team built to command from the heights, got a perfect start. They then seemed to hesitate slightly and sit on the lead, allowing Mayo to come back, which Mayo, to their eternal credit, did.
But it was never enough. Mayo reduced the deficit from seven at its worst to three a number of times during the course of the game and if they could have brought it back to two or one, maybe Mayo could have pulled off one of the greatest-ever Croke Park comebacks.
But they didn’t. Points weren’t scored early in the second half that would have put Mayo cats among Donegal pigeons and by the end a desperate Mayo were reduced to hoping for the goals that Donegal not only haven’t conceded but haven’t looked like conceding all year.
In the dying minutes, Mayo substitute Séamus O’Shea looked liked a man high-stepping through meadow as he tried to pick his way through the packed Donegal rearguard until their was clear room to shoot. And that was something nobody’s found in front of the Donegal goals all year.
Donegal are correctly praised for their system but systems only take you so far. Gaelic football is like few field sports in that the very nature of the game means you must attack. Negativity has its fixed horizons, but only creativity can truly set you free.
So while Donegal’s system has revolutionised this year’s Championship, it should be noted and noted well that the system would be nothing without Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden to put them over the bar or into the net, as appropriate.
A system can take you so far but only talent can bring you home. All Donegal should be proud of their fine team, their fine manager and their fine players. It hasn’t always been easy to maintain a first-class football tradition in Donegal. Isolation, emigration and the strong influence of soccer from the county’s historic association with Scotland all make the current generation’s achievements all the more remarkable. More luck to them, and may they winter well.
For Mayo, it was just another kick in the head, of course. Mayo have been posterized so often now that there is a danger that the wind may change and the county would be left that way.
There will be repercussions from the defeat, but not seismically so. More local tremors. The County Board will have to face a reckoning over a very thought-provoking ticket distribution policy, but on the field people release that this is a young team with many cornerstones in place.
There was speculation before the game that Mayo were a “team without stars” – how, then, could you describe David Clarke, or Ger Cafferkey, or Keith Higgins, or Aidan O’Shea, or Kevin McLoughlin, or Cillian O’Connor? None of those boys are over thirty either.
Horan has spent the first two years of his reign searching for a forward combination that will knit. He hasn’t quite cracked it but once he does, only good things can happen.
And so Donegal go on the beer while Mayo go into hibernation until the FBD League. Hopefully, there’ll be snow for that first FBD game. It always adds to the atmosphere, somehow.
And then the snow thaws and the shadow-boxing of the National League starts and then, all of a sudden, the summer is here and it’s time another run at Sam, 62 years on. I said to someone this weekend that we have measured out our lives in Championships. There are worse things to measure lives by.