Another one and this one I truly believe will be the hardest of the lot to live with. We’ve lost another All-Ireland final and this time we did so in what appears to have been an avoidable manner. Even now I can’t fully comprehend how we did so.
The decision to play Robbie Hennelly rather than David Clarke in goal will haunt us long into the future. I’d heard the rumours about this during the week but didn’t think we’d risk such a gambit in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of an All-Ireland final replay. But we did, with utterly calamitous consequences.
That was obvious inside the opening few minutes when Dublin raced into a four-point lead. Robbie’s kick-outs were responsible for at least three of these – with Dublin, realising our weak point, pushing up high and closing off the option of the short restart – and it was obvious then that we’d made a tactical blunder of quite disastrous proportions.
Worse was to follow after the break when Robbie spilled a ball in, which led to the penalty and a black card for him. David Clarke’s confident and assured display between the sticks afterwards only served to underscore what an awful clanger we’d made.
What were we thinking of? Robbie was pitched, lacking match practice for months, into a situation where he needed to be at his best. It’s understandable, coming cold into the team after months of not playing, that he wasn’t and I feel desperately sorry for him as regards how the match played out for him. I feel sorrier, though, for the team as a whole and for its loyal supporters, seeing another All-Ireland being lost, in heartbreaking circumstances.
It wasn’t the only relevant factor, of course, in today’s defeat but it was the major one. Dublin’s confident start gave them back their mojo and from then on they were always going to be a tougher team to beat. Had we not handed this start to them, would they have discovered their brio as well as they did? I’m not sure they would.
Mind you, when Lee Keegan found the net to put us in front, following excellent approach play from Aidan O’Shea, we fairly rocked them back on their heels again. The black-carding of Jonny Cooper didn’t exactly help their cause either.
Lee’s black card – with Connolly going down far too easily and then doing all he could to make sure the man who has dominated him so thoroughly was put off – hurt us more than Cooper’s loss did them. That was clear case of a rook for a queen.
I’m not going to blame the ref for our loss today. It’s beyond question, though, that we got the rough end of the stick on that front. Small should have been gone on black within minutes of the throw-in for the trip on Andy Moran, McCarthy could well have walked for the late and utterly reckless hit on Donal Vaughan (which effectively ended the Ballinrobe man’s day) and Small should also have gone for more than one of his subsequent infractions. Even with Deegan’s piss-poor officiating, though, we still could have done it.
But we didn’t and it’s that cold, hard truth we now have to live with. The lads gave everything today but in the end it wasn’t enough to get the win. Now’s not the time for detailed analysis, no more than it is for any kind of narrative on how the game played out, but there are plenty of long nights in the months to come for all the mournful introspection that surely lies ahead.
This defeat won’t, of course, finish us. We’ll come back strongly in 2017, we’ll be there or thereabouts again next year. Today we should have got there but, once more, we have to settle for thereabouts. The long wait goes on, ultimate success remains as elusive as ever for us and what befell us today now becomes just the latest chapter in a book we’re all so thoroughly sick of reading.
None will be more despondent now than Stephen and the players. I can only imagine what they’re going through in their minds right now and all any of us on the outside can do is sympathise with them and thank them for all their efforts in 2016.
We’re down tonight, more so than after any previous final loss from my point of view, but in time we will, once again, drag ourselves from the floor. This defeat does, of course, raise once again questions in my mind as to whether or not we’ll ever make it to the promised land but, even on a night like tonight, we can be sure of one thing. We’ll never give up, we’ll keep aiming for the stars.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (1-0), Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan (0-2); Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Jason Doherty, Andy Moran (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (0-9, frees). Subs: Stephen Coen for Keegan (black card), Conor O’Shea for Vaughan, David Clarke for Hennelly (black card), Barry Moran for Andy Moran.
Post-match audio report below. MOTM poll below as well.
Who was our MOTM against Dublin?
- Paddy Durcan (41%, 290 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (13%, 92 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (11%, 79 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (11%, 76 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (5%, 36 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (5%, 33 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (4%, 28 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (4%, 27 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (2%, 17 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 10 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 6 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 5 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 5 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 4 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (0%, 3 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (0%, 1 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 0 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 0 Votes)
- Barry Moran (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 712