It won’t, sadly, change the outcome but it’s still good to realise that, more than 48 hours on from the final whistle in this year’s All-Ireland final replay, the worst bit of the aftermath is all but behind us.
The awful, inconsolable finality of the match’s end, the sad trek out of the stadium and then, depending on what you did afterwards and where you were heading to, Saturday night and the post-match banquet (I wasn’t there), the highlights on TV if you were up to watching it (I wasn’t in the mood) and then the trek west on Sunday and the homecoming at MacHale Park (which I didn’t get to either, opting to stay back at base up here in Dublin).
All of which was then followed in turn by work on Monday, life beginning to return to normality but all the while punctuated by those intermittent stabs of grief over another All-Ireland campaign that came up agonisingly short. Monday after an All-Ireland final loss is normally a total pig of a day (and, God knows, we’ve lived through enough of them at this stage to know that full well) but the fact that the replay was on Saturday meant that there was an extra day’s buffer before having to face it.
But face it you have and now it’s almost done. And with it we’re done with the worst of the shock and dislocation at what befell us at Croke Park on Saturday evening. It’s not the end of the grieving process, of course it’s not and nor should it be either, and, as we put some distance between ourselves and last Saturday, it’s likely that the key factors which led to this one slipping through our fingers will be thrown into ever sharper relief.
As this happens, it will, of course, be the decision to field Robbie Hennelly instead of David Clarke between the sticks on Saturday evening that’ll stay in the spotlight. If this match has the capacity to haunt us for years – and I firmly believe that it has – then it’s this tactical gambit, which, in retrospect, can only be viewed as a mindbogglingly risky throw of the dice, that’ll be the principal focus of all the discussion to come.
There’s a long winter ahead, though, for this kind of introspection. We can’t turn back time and undo all the things that went against us on Saturday night but we can – and we must – learn from and seek to rectify the failings we displayed, both on and off the field, the ones that ultimately contributed most to what was in the end only a one-point loss.
We’ve been close, so excruciatingly close, to the pinnacle for the last five years, during which time we’ve been doing an awful lot right. As the immediate pain of this latest loss begins slowly to subside, the more focus that’s put on identifying and sorting out everything that was less than optimal this year will ensure that next year’s push for the summit has a greater chance of success.
And when we get there, as I still believe we eventually will, the pain we’re feeling now – like the anguish we’ve endured after every other loss – will be but a distant memory, like the defeats themselves. We’re still down now after Saturday but we won’t be for long and before we know it, we’ll be up and on the march again. Like we always do, like we always will.