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MAYO HOPE David Brady: Mayo will bounce back next year after falling short against Dublin

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19 December 2020; Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Chris Barrett of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

19 December 2020; Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Chris Barrett of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

19 December 2020; Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Chris Barrett of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

I WON'T forget this All-Ireland final for a long time.

It will always be remembered as the game that went ahead without the fans.

As I walked along Jones' Road before the match there was nothing but stillness and silence in the December air.

I stopped to take in the scene for a moment. I had never experienced anything like it before and hopefully it was a once-off. We don't want to witness another All-Ireland final played in an empty stadium.

As the ball sped past David Clarke with just 13 seconds gone, I thought I was still taking in that surreal moment outside the ground.

Suddenly I was wide awake, but then I could sit back and admire how this Mayo team responded, kicking three points in as many minutes to level the game.

It was game on and there was nothing between these great rivals in the first half, with Dublin being fortunate to find themselves two points in front at the break.

The intensity of the opening half was down to the performances of Mayo's Oisín Mullin who ghosted forward right after the concession of the goal to fist Mayo's opening score.

Lee Keegan had the measure of Ciaran Kilkenny as he produced another masterclass in terms of a specialist man-marking job.

Meanwhile, at the other end Cillian O'Connor was causing havoc in the Dublin defence and everybody watching knew that for the first time in this year's championship Dublin were in a game.

Before the contest many were afraid to even suggest an upset was possible.

But now it was looking like the unthinkable could happen and Mayo could halt Dublin's seemingly inevitable march towards the six-in-in-row.

Just before the break Robbie McDaid was sent to the sin bin.

At the restart Dublin wanted to slow the pace down until McDaid returned. Then they'd be ready to make their customary third quarter push for glory.

By then Mayo were in trouble. Losing Paddy Durcan at half time was a hammer blow. It is hard to describe what losing a player of Durcan's calibre and experience was to Mayo who needed their full quota of key players to all play to their potential.

Dublin exploited Durcan's absence from the defence. Dublin alternated Ciaran Kilkenny and Con O'Callaghan on Lee Keegan and started to turn the screw on the underdogs.

Mayo's inability to score from play in the second half until the 64th minute and not to register any score between the 49th and 64th minutes were killer blows.

The other key factor in turning the game in Dublin's favour was the impact of the respective benches.

The Mayo replacements Michael Plunkett, James Carr,Jordan Flynn and Darren Coen did not have the desired effect on the flow of the game or the scoreboard.

But these players are for the future and they will see more game time in the season ahead.

This group of players together with Oisín Mullin and Eoghan McLaughlin are the future of Mayo and the reason why I confidently predict Mayo are back as serious All-Ireland contenders.

Tommy Conroy and James Durcan - who wasn't used last night - will keep the scoreboard operators busy in next season's National League and I expect we will be hearing a lot more about them on the national stage.

Relish

It is not going to be pretty for Mayo in Division 2 of the National League where their opponents will relish the opportunity to make a name for themselves and take a scalp. But is the essence of football.

Every team is only as good as their last match and, though this was Dublin's greatest performance, they were very comfortable in the final quarter.

Remember the sides were level in the 49th minute (2-8; 0-14).

But during the remaining 25 minutes - there were five additional minutes played - Mayo scored only once whereas Dublin tacked on six more points. They didn't need to score goals in the second half.

When Mayo fans reflect on the game, it was Dublin's second goal courtesy of my Man of the Match Con O'Callaghan which was the game-changer.

Mayo were in control at the time, leading by two points but a momentary lapse of concentration which enabled the elusive O'Callaghan free in the danger-zone proved to be very costly indeed.

But let's salute Dublin. Winning six All-Ireland titles in a row doesn't make them great, it makes them the greatest.

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