Not that the Hill 16 end, where most of Dublin’s supporters traditionally mass, is sacrosanct. Mayo could have stretched their legs anywhere they chose, and Dublin had no divine right to occupy their customary patch before the throw-in.
No surprise then that the Dublin panel trundled in to do what they had prepared to do, and with the guts of 50 players, plus managers, coaches, mentors and medical personnel all crammed into the one constricted area, no surprise as well that the pushing and shoving started.
Mayo had a decision to make. Fight or flight? They chose to prolong the “invasion,” refused to bend. “We sat down for the photo and said for the hell of it we’d go down,” revealed their captain David Heaney later. “We were just saying we’re not afraid of ye. We’ll stand up … we just wanted to say we’re here to win, and that’s that.”
Whether impromptu or preconceived, the Connacht champions had provocatively raised the stakes in an All Ireland football semifinal that were already sky high. You don’t posture and pose if you can’t deliver on the pitch. If Mayo couldn’t back up their actions with points and goals, and if Dublin found a fault-line in their commitment, they would in all probability be humiliated.
But Mayo didn’t falter. They proved conclusively that the psychological pressure they had tried to apply amounted to much more than dry ice and mirrors, and they went on to play their part in a game that will never be forgotten by anyone who was fortunate enough to witness it.
To boil a vibrant, fascinating contest down to Ciaran McDonald’s elegant match-winning point in the closing minutes would be an injustice. There was so much more last Sunday. There was Dublin’s energy and their white-hot start to the second half, which threatened to burn Mayo off. Alan Brogan’s verve, Shane Ryan’s work rate and Ciaran Whelan’s muscular presence – at times Dublin seemed irresistible.
But all the while, Mayo were the more composed. Astonishingly, seven points in arrears with just over 20 minutes remaining, they never panicked. Their comeback wasn’t out of the Meath playbook where they corner you on the ropes and keep punching; it was all together more stylish. Mayo refused to be intimidated by the depressing reality of the scoreboard, and they simply continued to play football as if the teams were level.
Notwithstanding some sideline alchemy from manager Mickey Moran who got two critical points from one of his subs, Kevin O’Neill, as well as a goal from another, Andy Moran, while David Brady supplied the necessary drive and leadership in that tempestuous last quarter.
The more Mayo pressed through the outstanding Alan Dillon and Conor Mortimer, the more Dublin appeared to suffocated by the expectation ringing in their ears. With Kerry ready and waiting to make it a dream All Ireland final, it just wasn’t in the script for the team to blow a seven-point lead.
It could easily have been a draw, but with the momentum they had generated, Mayo held on for a famous victory. For Dublin, the gap since their last glory day in 1995 gets bigger, and every year the Holy Grail seems somehow less attainable.
As for Mayo, the danger is that they have played their big game of the summer, and that there won’t be enough in the tank for the final. The flip side could be that their levels of self belief have never been as high, and that there is a whiff of destiny about them.
They gambled last Sunday during the warm-up, showed their hand early, but never folded and won the turf war.
Cats can deprive
Cork of 3-in-row
Last month, the Cork hurlers were boosted by a two-hour motivational speech from Roy Keane. Kilkenny will argue that without an All Ireland title since 2003, they don’t need any motivation for Sunday’s final at Croke Park.
This Cork team, as they bid for the Liam McCarthy Cup for a third time in succession, have already left a major footprint on the sport. Packed with talent – take Sean Og O hAilpin for starters – as well as grizzled experience in the form of Brian Corcoran and scoring prowess from Joe Deane, their dominant characteristic has been an ability to pull tight matches out of the fire.
Cork just haven’t got used to winning, they’ve learned how to win. Manager John Allen, a former masseur who rose through the backroom ranks, won the title at his first attempt last year, a testimony to his ability and to the players’ desire for more success.
“This year has been a bit easier because it wasn’t all new,” said the understated Allen. “I’m more comfortable with it, more confident. It’s still difficult, there’s still a lot of pressure. I suppose it’s like every job – you get accustomed to it.”
Allen has had to make some tough decisions like leaving former All Star defender Wayne Sherlock on the bench. “It’s a credit to the fellas around Wayne, the fellas who keep him out. But I feel for him because he’s training as hard as everybody else. He has done it all, yet he’s not able to make it in.”
For Allen’s counterpart, Brian Cody, there is now the headache of finding a replacement for defender J.J. Delaney who will miss the final through injury. Still, Cody has rung the changes in all four of Kilkenny’s championship games this summer as he attempts to build a new team, and even captain Jackie Tyrell was dropped for the quarter-final win over Galway.
“Any time you lose a player like J.J., the team will be unsettled a bit,” said Tyrell who will be in the starting line-up on Sunday. “But it’s also an opportunity for someone else to move in there because we feel we have a strong enough squad.”
While Tyrell’s admiration for what Cork have achieved he won’t be dwelling too much on the opposition during the build up. “Other teams had the game for the taking, yet Cork were able to step it up. They’ve pulled through. We can’t say we’re trying to stop them winning three in a row. What Cork have done so far is beyond us. It’s a factor for the media and other people. We can only beat the teams put in front of us.”
At the end of a disappointing season, this could be a final to savor. If Cork manage to put the shackles on Henry Shefflin, then their three-in-a-row dream could become a reality. But somehow, the feeling here is that Kilkenny might have more desire to retain what they feel is rightfully theirs. Kilkenny to shade it.
kiss, make up
Consider what the odds would have been on Roy Keane and Niall Quinn engaging in some sort of rapprochement following the debacle of Saipan in 2002 when Keane was sent home from the World Cup finals by Ireland manager Mick McCarthy.
In the aftermath, Keane’s perception was that some senior players, including Quinn, hadn’t backed him when he complained to McCarthy about the facilities at the squad’s training camp. He called those players “muppets” and scathingly referred to Quinn as a “Mother Teresa.”
Spool forward four years, and not alone are Keane and Quinn about to kiss and make up, but Keane, as the newly appointed manager of Sunderland, is effectively now working for Quinn who happens to be the club’s chairman.
Quinn was looking for a high-profile manager for Sunderland who were relegated from the English Premiership last season, and Keane was on the market. Critically, both men share the same agent, the London-based lawyer, Michael Kennedy, and a deal has been thrashed out which will see Keane sign a three-year contract.
Not alone will it be fascinating to watch as Keane sets out on his managerial career, but his once-fraught relationship with Quinn will also be under the microscope as he attempts to pull Sunderland out of the mire. The club, which has lost its first five games of the season under Quinn as a caretaker manager, is currently rooted at the bottom of the English Championship – the league below the Premiership.
Soccer is not only littered with great players who failed to make a success out of coaching, but tension between managers and chairmen is also part and parcel of the professional game.
At first glance, this looks like the most unlikely marriage in sport. A brand new manager with a volatile temperament, and a struggling club deep in debt. With their reputations on the line, Keane and Quinn will be determined to make it work.
But then, no one knows whether it will.