OpinionPat Spillane

Spillane: What Mayo must do now to reach the promised land

A bitterly disappointed Aidan O'Shea after Saturday's defeat to Dublin
A bitterly disappointed Aidan O'Shea after Saturday's defeat to Dublin

What a game and what a performance by two great teams. Dublin were just that bit better and would have won it easier but for some selfish play in the second half.

There were easy scores on if the ball was given and it wasn’t. It was most unusual from a team that makes the right calls most of the time.

But their bench was strong. David Byrne, Michael Darragh Maculey and Cormac Costello contributed way more than any Mayo replacement did.

Dublin had the hunger when they needed it in that frantic second half. That was the question we asked and Dublin answered in emphatically.

Their defence was brilliant and majored on the fact that some of Mayo’s forwards simply wouldn’t shoot. The Dubs’ backs just closed them down and would not give up an inch of room.

That was typical of their effort, the effort needed to win an All-Ireland.

Dublin had it, along with a couple of touches of class. 

Brian Fenton, Paul Flynn, Ciaran Kilkenny and Costello were magnificent, they were the men looking for the ball when the game was there for the winning or losing.

And they wanted to win!

As for Mayo, it is the same old story as it has been since the bones of this fine football team came to prominence in 2011 – their forwards are not good enough to claim the greatest prize.

The O’Connor brothers were carrying injuries this year and, if the back-room do one thing this winter it must be to decide whether Aidan O’Shea is a midfielder, centre-forward or full-forward. 

And then they must tailor their game-plan to get the best out of him at that one position – not try to use the Breaffy man everywhere.

In the last three years, before yesterday’s showpiece, Aidan had played in five All-Ireland semi-finals and a final and scored the grand total of two points

Big players deliver on the big day and that is not good enough from Aidan, but what his county is asking him to do is not helping.

But it is not just about him. Mayo’s record this season is one score recorded from every two scoring efforts. 

That is not good enough. With a bit of luck, they might have got away with such a return in the drawn match last month, but it was not good enough yesterday.

Significantly too, look at them in the big matches in 2016, they got no goal against Galway, none against Tyrone and none in the first meeting with Dublin – big Mayo games, no goals scored.

What Mayo must do now is blend the mid 20’s lads in the current team, the O’Shea’s, the O’Connors, Lee Keegan and Patrick Durcan, with the fine crop of young footballers who won an All-Ireland minor title in 2013 and backed that win up with U-21 success this year.

It may mean a lost summer of 2017 while those younger guys get to grips with senior inter-county football, but if they go for it, Mayo have a great chance of at last lifting Sam in 2018 or 2019.

Why do I say that? Because teams trying to make a Sam Maguire breakthrough need a bunch of young lads who have no fear or no baggage with any county, because they are used to winning at under-age level.

Think Tyrone in 2003 where more than half their lads had All-Ireland medals from minor or U-21, some of them had both.

Think too of Tipperary whose current crop of young footballers have beaten Cork and Kerry regularly at development squad level, at minor and U-21 too.

It comes naturally, too, to beat them at senior level.

Those young Mayo lads who will come up have no mental baggage about losing finals, all they’ve done is win them!

Not for them the conservative stuff we saw from Mayo in the drawn game, when they kept Keegan, Colm Boyle and Kevin McLoughlin rigidly in their own half when they had a wonderful chance of beating a flat Dublin team.

It may be too late now for the likes of Alan Dillon, Andy Moran, Barry Moran and Keith Higgins to get their All-Ireland medals. But maybe this is the darkest hour before the dawn for Mayo football.

Still, it will be a long winter as the county reflects on another All-Ireland that got away.