Dublin display the stuff of champions
WHEN Dublin players woke up this morning, they will have nursed a multitude of sore bodies and sorer heads (of the concussed variety, in case you're wondering). But guess what? They will never have felt better.
When their Mayo counterparts opened their eyes and stared up at the ceiling, the initial pain will have been very different. An aching numbness, a feeling of nothingness that only gets worse as the day proceeds.
That's what happens when an All-Ireland final finishes in a one-point game. That's what happens when Dublin have just completed their second successful assault on Sam in the space of three seasons.
That's what happens when Mayo have lost their second All-Ireland final on the bounce, their fourth of the last decade, their seventh since 1989.
But while Mayo players and fans lament another traumatic what-might-have-been, this day belonged to Dublin and deservedly so, just about.
This was not the scorefest that many had predicted beforehand. In truth, it was a fractured decider pockmarked by multiple turnovers and poor execution.
But that won't bother Dublin or their Midas manager, Jim Gavin, in the slightest. They have played 15 league and championship games this season and finished with a close-to-flawless record of 13 victories, one draw (in Donegal) and one defeat (against Tyrone in March).
They have completed Gaelic football's Grand Slam of a first league title in 20 years, yet another Leinster crown (their eighth in nine attempts) and now the crowning glory of another All-Ireland.
Many times this season, they have played with greater fluency and more defence-shredding penetration ... but having edged out Kerry in that semi-final classic for the ages, they have now revealed the knack of winning ugly, too.
For the second game running, they have also prevailed despite enduring something bordering on a nightmare start.
They never trailed by more than three points and yet it could have been far worse during that opening quarter, as green and red jerseys swarmed all over them and men in blue struggled for air, let alone clean possession.
But, as with Kerry, Dublin figured their way back into the contest and that is a testament not just to their quality as footballers but their character, too.
By half-time they had reduced the deficit to the minimum, 0-8 to 1-4 – an ominous augury for Mayo given their early dominance. Approaching that midpoint, both teams appeared to be physically flagging in the September heatwave. Crucially, though, Dublin had Mayo in their sights.
Within three minutes of the restart they were ahead (via Eoghan O'Gara's goal chance acrobatically tipped over by Robert Hennelly) and from there on Mayo were chasing the game.
And yet by the final whistle Dublin only had 13 vaguely fit men still on the pitch, having long since emptied their bench, with the hamstrung Eoghan O'Gara almost at walking pace and Rory O'Carroll seemingly concussed. But they survived and, while Mayo complained about the timing of Joe McQuillan's final whistle, the story of this year's championship will be penned with a distinctly sky blue hue. To the victor, the spoils.
There are many reasons why Dublin eventually hung on to win by 2-12 to 1-14. Bernard Brogan, a player taken off in four of his previous five championship outings this summer, is top of the list: in a game where only two of the 12 starting forwards scored more than one point from play, Brogan's 2-2 contribution from play (2-3 in total) was the tie-breaker.
For someone supposedly struggling to attain his old stellar standard, the 2010 Footballer of the Year has finished the campaign in swashbuckling style, following up his critical four points from play against Kerry's Marc O Se with yesterday's decisive haul.
Brogan outjumped both Ger Cafferkey and the advancing Hennelly to fist home his first goal, via Paul Flynn's raking 16th minute delivery, at a time when Dublin were trailing 0-4 to 0-1 and in danger of suffering oxygen starvation, such was Mayo's relentless opening blitzkrieg.
Brogan's second goal, in the 54th minute, was every bit as crucial. It came just four minutes after Andy Moran had reignited Mayo's flagging challenge with an equalising goal, pouncing on an aerial mix-up in the Dublin full-back line which enabled Michael Conroy to release the Mayo skipper through on his Dublin counterpart, Stephen Cluxton.
Suddenly, a final that was scrappy, blighted by injuries and stoppages and yet weirdly captivating, was right back in the melting pot.
Enter Denis Bastick, just introduced at midfield, and ghosting onto a pass from his partner, Michael Darragh Macauley.
Many times this summer, Dublin have taken wrong and/or selfish option in such goalscoring positions – but Bastick, a wise head on 32-year-old shoulders, weighted his pass perfectly for the unmarked Brogan to fist home.
That pivotal goal restored a three-point cushion for Dublin, and it was only in the death throes of injury-time that Mayo pared their deficit back to the minimum.
Dublin were patently the better team for most of that second half, scoring 1-6 from play – in stark contrast to Mayo whose lack of cutting edge up front proved their All-Ireland undoing yet again.
And yet the Connacht standard-bearers conspired to stay in touch through Moran's goal and six second half Cillian O'Connor frees. Which brings us to the one point of major controversy – right at the death.
McQuillan called time well into the fifth minute of stoppage time (four had been signalled), soon after Cluxton's final kick-out following O'Connor's eighth free conversion of the afternoon.
O'Connor could be seen asking McQuillan how much time remained before tapping over, and reportedly was told 30 seconds, hence his decision to eschew the gamble of going for goal. Yet he seemed to take an inordinate amount of time over that free, and the clock read in the vicinity of 74mins 15secs when the point registered.
A few seconds after Cluxton's kickout, the long whistle sounded; O'Connor was among a handful of Mayo players who quickly made a beeline to McQuillan in protest.
Whatever the merits of that argument, a forensic analysis of Mayo's latest All-Ireland heartbreak will point towards their shortcomings up front.
Moran (with 1-2) and Keith Higgins (with 0-1 before reverting to defence) were their only starting forwards to score from play. None of their subs contributed on that front.
And whereas their half-backs had tallied 2-12 from play before yesterday, only Lee Keegan (with 0-2 in the first half) added to that tally while his colleagues were arguably too busy fire-fighting at the back to lend the supplementary scores that Mayo so badly craved.
It's not that Dublin's starting front six soared to the heavens... but they had O'Gara with two points off the bench, they had Dean Rock delivering another big cameo... and they also had Bernard Brogan.
The ultimate difference. The ultimate match-winner.