Monday, October 03, 2016
Would Mayo have won if David Clarke had started in goals ahead of Robbie Hennelly? We’ll never know. But it is clear that while Stephen Rochford won the sideline battle in the drawn game, Jim Gavin beat him all ends up in the replay.
The theory advanced by Rochford himself for the change of goalkeeper was that Dublin’s winning of turnovers off kickouts in the final quarter of the drawn game was significant. That’s debatable. What’s not debatable is that the cure was worse than the disease and now Mayo have yet another year to lick their wounds and dream of the top table.
Gavin’s analysis of and reaction to the drawn game was much better than Rochford’s. Gavin realised that the clock just doesn’t go backwards, and Bernard Brogan and Michael Dara MacAuley, corner-stones of this Dublin side, are now past their prime. So Gavin dropped both, knowing that they could contribute when they came on. And so it came to pass.
In his selection of Mick Fitzsimons, Gavin also found a man to do what many have tried and failed to do all summer – shut down Andy Moran. In the winter of his career, Moran has been the centerpiece of the Mayo attack. Moran was the only Mayo full-forward to score from play on Saturday but he was nothing like as influential as he had been in the middle of the summer and, without that influence, the Mayo attack withered on the vine.
So credit Gavin, in many ways. But it would not serve history to anoint Dublin a superteam like Kerry in the ‘seventies or Down or Galway in the ‘sixties, forces that could not be denied. Dublin were never able to put Mayo away, even after Mayo had gifted them two goals in the drawn game and 1-4 in the replay. A catastrophic error was made in Mayo’s selection, and there is no getting around that.
But it’s done and the clock doesn’t go back. The Mayo News tweeted that Cillian O’Connor told the Mayo post-match banquet last night that the future is bright and he’s not wrong. Cillian O’Connor himself is only 24 years old. Diarmuid O’Connor is 21. Aidan O’Shea is 26. The age profile of the team is very good.
This isn’t so much a golden as a platinum generation of Mayo footballers. That’s why the mutiny, ugly though it was, was worthwhile, and that’s why it’s legitimate to be as frank about where this All-Ireland Final was lost as we can be.
It’s important that the management be as honest as they can be as they assess this year and plan for next. Insofar as can be established, because very little news escapes the camp, the priority of the year has been defence. This is one of the reasons that Mayo looked so poor against Kildare, Westmeath and Tipperary – they were not set up to attack but to defend, and to take such scores as might accrue.
Part of this has to do with the nostrum that Mayo’s failure to win All-Irelands having appeared in so many finals was down to two fatal flaws – the absence of a “marquee forward,” and a chronic inability to defend goals.
Malachy Clerkin of the Irish Times was good enough to list all the goals that Mayo conceded in recent big games, going back to the 2012 All-Ireland final. And that’s all grand; goals have certainly been conceded. But reader, every other team concedes goals too.
The concession of goals happens in football. The fact you can score goals and points in football is one of the things that makes it great. What is important in the analysis is whether those goals Mayo conceded could have been defended.
It has become generally accepted that James Horan erred in his defensive setup to allow Michael Murphy to score his goal in the 2012 Final. But it’s not like Michael Murphy is an ordinary footballer. It must be accepted that an exceptional talent like Murphy can’t be stopped and can only be contained.
So Michel Murphy scored a goal; credit Murphy. That doesn’t mean the Mayo defence is Swiss cheese and needs seven men back there instead of six. The vim that Kevin McLoughlin added to the Mayo attack when he moved up the field suggests that Mayo were at a double-loss in playing McLoughlin as a sweeper.
These are the questions that the Mayo management have to ask themselves in the long winter ahead. What do we know, really? Is what we think true, really true? If the Mayo defence is so leaky, how did the team ge to six straight All-Ireland semi-finals, winning three and drawing two? If the Mayo attack is so threadbare, how did Mayo get to six straight All-Ireland semi-finals, winning three and drawing two?
These are sums that don’t add up. And here’s another: if Dublin are the team of the decade, what are Mayo? No team matches up against Dublin better than Mayo. No team seems to get under Dublin’s skin as much, to throw them out of their rhythm as much. That would suggest that Mayo are the second best team in Ireland.
But Dublin have won four All-Irelands in the past six years. Mayo have won no All-Irelands in sixty-five years. In our system, that means that Mayo are nowhere. To be in the conversation, you have to take Sam home. When Mayo win the All-Ireland, then we can have the conversation. Until then, there isn’t a conversation to be had.
That conversation will start at about five or half-past five on September 17th next year. Up Mayo.