The manager stayed up all night. His keeper, his loyal custodian, had contributed to three vital scores against them. What to do, how to do it, he mused. A rocky league and some disgruntled supporters had ensured his credit rating was almost in debit. “Bugger it” he thought and rolled the dice.
Thirteen Premiership titles, two Champion League titles and numerous cups later, Alex Ferguson was vindicated. Jim Leighton, the unfortunate keeper excluded from the FA Cup final replay of 1990 after conceding three sloppy goals against Crystal Palace never spoke to Ferguson after that.
On such calls history is made. Would I have had the balls to sit there, surmise and roll that dice? No way.
Jim Gavin dropped two former Players of the Year, he changed his number 4. He too made calls. The improvement Jim sought didn’t bring the wide blue water he might have wished for. Mayo still stuck like glue to his team.
Driving in to the match I told my daughter that inches would win this game. Long suffering companion that she is, she nodded. We both mentioned that Mayo might be better off with Hennelly’s kick-out ability.
So what cardinal sin exactly did Stephen Rochford commit? He saw an issue, we all saw that issue. David Clarke’s kick-outs hung dangerously in the closing stages of the first match. Three points were garnered off those inviting hanging 50/50 kick outs.
Mayo needed those inches, Rochford is tasked with finding them. He made a momentous call, a brave call and, let’s be clear, a call very few former Mayo managers would have the balls to make.
Let’s dispel a few red herrings here. Both goalkeepers and the back-room team had almost two weeks to work on this issue. We would be very naive to believe that both keepers weren’t aware of what was likely to happen.
So Robbie Hennelly wasn’t walking down Clonliffe Road when an announcement went out saying “Would Robert Hennelly report to the Mayo dressing room and bring his boots with him. ” Had David Clarke broken his leg, Hennelly would have been in anyway.
Stephen Rochford is now scape-goated for the troubles of Hennelly. That’s unfair and wrong. Hennelly is a vital member of the squad, a man whose goal is to dispossess his rival for the goalkeeping position. In my opinion, Hennelly would have revelled in wresting the jersey from Clarke, or at least he should have. Similarly Dublin’s Michael Fitzsimons with his promotion and Andrews with his. Time has called, real men wanted.
My issue here is a long-time one. To be a ‘keeper you have to be mad, a bit crazy. One slip and you are headlines.
Hennelly, alas has been on the end of a few rather unfortunate slips over the years. Cluxton likewise – it goes with the territory. Does anyone recall his meltdown against Armagh in 2002? Cluxton learned, though, and modified his game. I would have expected the same progress from our man.
Darragh Ó Sé scorched him after the replay against Dublin last year and he didn’t mince his words in doing so. The semi-final of 2011 and the final of 2013 also had question marks. With time should come progress and an elimination of basic bread and butter errors. That sadly is the price you pay when you are in the shop window and wear the jersey of the tail gunner.
Photo: Sports Joe/Inpho
So Rochford and Hennelly didn’t rob us Saturday. I would go as far as to say no player robbed us Saturday evening. Inches cost us though, those pesky inches that are all round us.
A few balls into Cluxton’s arms. Standing and waiting three times for the ball to arrive into a Mayo chest only to see a Dublin player fly past and win it. Over-holding the ball as the crowd screamed “he’s behind you”. Small and minute but vital inches.
Dublin have beaten us in two All Ireland finals by the minimum. To them rightly go the accolades. But unlike 1997/04/06, this time we weren’t the warm-up act or the fall guys. Dublin are crowned kings of modern football. Inches separate Mayo from them and Dublin are very aware of that.
This Mayo project, this Mayo journey, this Mayo collective and kinship is like a long running movie that we all take part in. We are privileged. We have scaled great heights, we have fallen from sheer cliffs but by Christ at least we have been around to do those things.
Sunday has arrived and the sun is shining. Ten times I have sat in the amphitheater of the greats and ten times we didn’t get the closure we deserve. We might have to sit another ten final days of reckoning before the Golden Fleece arrives – who knows? – but one thing we do know.
Mayo the county has the men and women that will always keep us honest, always keep us to the front and when that day comes, those that went before – players, managers and mentors – will be mentioned in the credit roll at the end of that film.