When Dublin whittled Mayo’s lead down to two points with five minutes to play my brother-in-law from Louisburg had to leave the room – he couldn’t watch any more.
The ghost of 2004 and 2006 were flying all around his living room and when Cillian O’Connor and Mickey Conroy – two of Mayo’s most dangerous forwards on the day – spurred two glorious chances to seal the win. Mayo knew their lead was not unassailable as they had come from seven down against the Dubs in 2006 in that remarkable All Ireland semi-final played.
And it appeared as if history would turn itself on its head when Bernard Brogan bore down on goal with 67 minutes on the clock and the winning of the game held in his hands. However, the high profile Dublin forward couldn’t find a way past David Clarke in the Mayo goal and his save spurred his county on to a famous victory.
Nobody outside Mayo saw this coming, apparently, but I really fancied the men from the West once it was confirmed Alan Brogan wouldn’t start. He is the man that makes things happen for this Dublin team, and not just from the scores he gets. He links brilliantly between defence and attack and brings the other Dublin forwards into the game by way of his astute passing and intelligent running off the ball. Without him this Dublin team lacks finesse and the ability to carve out openings by any means other than their sear physical prowess and strong running.
I was worried about the effect Andy Moran’s absence would have on the Connacht champions but all over the field they had men willing to take on his leadership role, none more so than Alan Dillon, a player I rate as one of the best I have seen in the modern game.
You never see Dillon flustered or pressured into doing something with the ball he really didn’t want to do because his awareness of his surroundings and evasive skills are second to none. Add to this his passing and reading of the game and his ability to kick crucial points and he is a forward that any county in Ireland would love to have starting on their 40.
Equally impressive was Kevin McLoughlin, one of the most exciting players to break on the scene in the last two years. His goal against Cork in last year’s quarter-final defined Mayo’s championship in 2011 while he was on fire yesterday until an accidental crack on the back of his head forced him off from the 55th-69th minute. It is no coincidence that Dublin’s resurgence coincided with his period of absence.
Other outstanding performances included that of Keith Higgins at corner back and the place-kicking of the afore-mentioned O’Connor. Both players stood up and were counted when the game hung in the balance and their sides needed them most: a sign of a true leader.
Donegal have been installed as firm favourites for the first All Ireland final between the two sides and the first between Connacht and Ulster representatives since 1948 when Cavan beat Mayo. It was easy to see what reaching the final meant to both sets of fans and no doubt Donegal and Mayo will be awash with colour for the next few weeks.
However, James Horan’s description of the final as “game five” gives a clear indication of just how this modern manager will approach the game. It is another game in which performance remains the sole objective. Only by achieving said performance – the likes of which has been drilled and coached into the team over the past two years – can any hope of success be achieved.
For Mayo this mantra will be of particular importance for in the past the mental strain of playing in an All Ireland final appeared to have seriously affected their performance. However, you can be sure Jim McGuinness would approve of Horan’s turn of phrase and will be adopting the same approach with his charges. As for the naysayers out there who have been lamenting the demise of Gaelic football as we know it, the two quarter-finals we have just witnessed prove we enjoy one of the best field games there is.
Before closing just I’d like to offer belated congratulations to Shane Doonan and Donal Wrynn on their All Ireland Minor 60x30 Doubles success last week. Coming on foot of Ed Lee’s All Ireland Golden Masters winner, it’s a tribute to all those keeping this great sport alive in the county (with Fenagh and Drumkeerin leading the fight). Mary Shanley and Ciara McLoughlin may have come up short in their final but they will no doubt be back.
Interestingly, Westmeath’s Niamh Egan, former National Media and Development Officer with GAA Handball Ireland, has recently taken up a teaching role in St. Clare’s Comprehensive School in Manorhamilton. A noted handball player and footballer, basketball is actually Niamh’s first sport. All in all a great addition to the teaching staff in the school. Best of luck in the new role Niamh, and welcome to Leitrim.