EVEN those with hearts of stone . . . even Galway people who hold the bitterest of rivalry edges for their neighbours . . . and even their conquerors on Saturday evening last, could not help but feel sympathy for a Mayo team that once more had their fingertips on Sam but yet couldn’t get it within their grasp.
Sport is a cruel business — let there be no doubt about that — and as tens of thousands of Mayo fans made their way down Jones’ Road shortly before 7pm on Saturday, the silent faces spoke multitudes. There was no balm to soothe the pain.
The two unfortunate own goals in the drawn match had probably robbed them of victory that day — this time around, Dublin had learned a lesson and were able to match the intensity that Mayo had brought to the first match.
And yet, it was so close, so mightily close. Just one kick of a ball between them in a share-out of 31 scores on a benign autumn evening in Croke Park, where the setting sun battled bravely through the second half to keep its snout above the roof of the Davin Stand.
Croke Park on All-Ireland final is truly a magnificent occasion and when the two best teams in the country and the two best sets of supporters across the land, are thrown into the mix, the occasion is utterly gripping, even for a neutral.
On Saturday though, there were few neutrals. On one side were the Dublin fans, full of song, colour and gusto, while on the other, stood a huge contingent of ‘Mayos’ . . . and the rest of the country as well.
A county and a country longed for Mayo to win. In Mayo hearts though, it was more than a yearning. They’ve produced many great teams over the past six and a half decades, but time after time as the finishing tape appears in front of them, a mysterious runner sneaks past, almost ghost like.
Mayo are a team fused with many great players . . . a string of incredible defenders and a selection of powerful midfielders but alas, they lack that extra forward option or two, to deliver the crucial scores a little more freely on the big day.
The Mayo attack are critically dependent on the freetaking of Cillian O’Connor, the wiles of Andy Moran and the athleticism cum physical power of Aidan O’Shea. But there’s a chunk of attacking diversity missing in the shape of natural scoring forwards, and they’re not easy to find.
On Saturday evening Cillian O’Connor pointed nine frees, half-backs Lee Keegan and Patrick Durcan scored 1-2 leaving Mayo’s forward contribution from play at a measly 0-3 — a point apiece from Andy Moran, Diarmuid O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin. It’s a scoring return from a forward line that’s just not strong enough to win All-Irelands.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.