Oh man. Once again we’ve come away from All-Ireland final day without the spoils but I think this one may possibly end up hurting us more than any of the others. We deserved to lose, for sure (even if we only went under by a point in the end), following the way the Dubs outplayed us in an error-strewn second half but it was our own alarmingly flat performance over much of the seventy minutes that contributed most to our downfall in today’s All-Ireland final.
It was definitely a match we could and should have won, especially in light of the strong start we enjoyed. Not only did we negotiate that tricky opening quarter without suffering any fatal damage but it was instead clear from early on that we were coming out on top in the exchanges and that we had Dublin rattled. The shame, then, was that we failed to capitalise on this period of dominance and, worse still, that we gifted an unforgiveably bad goal to them which hauled them right back into the contest. To be fair to Robbie Hennelly, he rescued us afterwards with three superb goal-stopping saves but the kamikaze way way he launched himself into no-man’s land, allowing Brogan to flick the ball over him and into the net, was simply horrendous.
At half-time, it felt like the game was on a knife edge but, as it turned out, we were bailing water for much of the second half. The heavy, hot conditions seemed to get to our lads more than theirs, with Jim Gavin’s decision to introduce more subs at an earlier stage – they’d emptied their bench with twenty minutes still to play – vindicated in the way they were able to keep coming at us at such high tempo.
We lost more and more of our shape as the second half progressed. The ball into the inside line became utterly predictable and increasingly desperate, we made countless handling errors as we tried to move the ball up the pitch and we completely abandoned any attempts to prevent Cluxton from finding a free man with his kick-outs. The combination of these failings killed us.
And still we nearly did it. I didn’t think there was any way back when they went three points up but then Andy’s goal – which he rolled so coolly past Cluxton and into the net – got us level and hopes rose afresh that we might now power on and do it. But the next score came in the form of their second goal and that was the fatal blow.
The last few minutes played out like last year’s semi-final in reverse as they paid us back with interest with the kind of tactics we’d used on them last year to keep them at bay. It never looked like we were going to bridge the gap at that stage and even though we only came up short by the minimum margin it felt like a lot more when the final whistle sounded.
I can’t get into performances at this stage – those of you who saw the game, either in the flesh or on TV, can judge for yourselves about that. Neither can I turn my mind towards the future and what we need to do now as we seek to drag ourselves from the floor and start anew. All that’s for another day.
Supporters everywhere will be dejected and disappointed at this loss, all the more so because we know – as James Horan himself admitted after the match – that it was our own failings that cost us the game. This one is a particularly hard to take and I think it’ll be some time before the pain subsides from it.
It remains the case, though, that there would have been no All-Ireland final appearance without the enormous work put in all year by James and the players. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for all they’ve done in getting us once again so close to the winning enclosure and we share the gut-wrenching pain and disappointment they will certainly be feeling right now at this latest deflating final loss.
I find it hard to believe that once more it’s time for useless statements like it wasn’t to be and all that but that’s as good as it gets for us right now. We’ll rise again, of course we will, but that too is one for another day.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Tom Cunniffe, Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett; Lee Keegan (0-2), Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle; Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin, Keith Higgins (0-1), Alan Dillon; Cillian O’Connor (0-8, frees), Alan Freeman, Andy Moran (1-2). Subs: Michael Conroy for Freeman, Cathal Carolan for Cunniffe, Enda Varley for Dillon, Barry Moran for Seamus O’Shea, Jason Doherty for Andy Moran.