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end of an era Dublin became repetitive, monotonous and about as exciting as watching a fella paint a wall...they're better than that

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Dublin's Brian Fenton and Paddy Small of Dublin battle with Matthew Ruane, left, and Michael Plunkett of Mayo

Dublin's Brian Fenton and Paddy Small of Dublin battle with Matthew Ruane, left, and Michael Plunkett of Mayo

Dublin's Brian Fenton and Paddy Small of Dublin battle with Matthew Ruane, left, and Michael Plunkett of Mayo

WHAT happened in Croke Park in the first All-Ireland semi-final was so seismic it is well worth revisiting in a huge way.

It reminded me of Lenin’s famous quote ‘there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen’.

In this case, it all unfolded in a remarkable 40 minutes.

No disrespect to Dublin, but their demise was just what the All-Ireland series needed. It has been crying out for a new winner.

The semi-final was an utterly bizarre game which defies rational analysis.

As for the game itself, let’s be honest – it was pretty dire for the first hour.

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Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Cian O'Sullivan hung up their boots

Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Cian O'Sullivan hung up their boots

Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Cian O'Sullivan hung up their boots

Suddenly, it changed course. Without warning, it reverted to the kind of contest which characterized football during the 1970s and 1980s.

The obsession with holding possession went out the window.

Instead, we got a game littered with errors and countless turnovers.

Yet it was hugely entertaining – with drama, twists and turns all the way to the final whistle.

It was football in its rawest state, utterly different from the robotic type of game we have become accustomed to in the last decade.

At half-time you could have had any odds on a Mayo victory. Frankly, they looked a beaten docket.

Their first-half approach was taken from the play book so many teams adopt when facing the Dubs – and which inevitably ends in failure.

They sat back and didn’t engage the Dubs, there was little physicality in their play and their tackling was half-hearted.

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It was all about stopping Dublin from scoring a goal with little thought given to how they might actually win the game.

I cannot fathom why teams set up like this.

So far, I haven’t seen any trophies handed out to a team for not conceding a goal, securing a moral victory or losing by a single-digit margin.

According to the Kerry players in the Munster semi-final, the Tipperary players were still shouting ‘no goal’ in the closing ten minutes of the match.

You couldn’t make it up – they were trailing by 11 points at the time.

Kildare and Jack O’Connor patted themselves on the back for their great defensive display against Dublin.

Holy God, they lost a game they never looked like winning.

Mayo were on a similar slippery slope at half-time last weekend, by allowing Dublin to play the game on their terms.

Then came their Eureka moment which changed everything.

Maybe they remembered what happened in the league game between Dublin and Kerry in Thurles.

Kerry decided to abandon their cautious approach after they fell seven points behind against Dublin early in the second half.

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Jack McCaffrey, left, and Paul Mannion brought the X Factor to Dublin

Jack McCaffrey, left, and Paul Mannion brought the X Factor to Dublin

Jack McCaffrey, left, and Paul Mannion brought the X Factor to Dublin

Under pressure Dublin capitulated, though they held on for a draw.

Mayo did exactly what Kerry did – they just went for it.

Not only did they put pressure on the Dublin kick-out – they put pressure on every Dublin player in possession higher up the field.

They tagged the Dubliner runners; they got physical and by playing on the edge they got under Dublin’s skins.

Finally, the replacements they introduced were all blessed with pace.

It was a brave performance from Mayo – physically and mentally.

And it wasn’t just Kerry who demonstrated how to get under Dublin’s skin.

Division Four side Wexford adopted a similar approach in their first round of the Leinster championship and, though they won, Dublin looked very uncomfortable.

They failed to score a goal that afternoon in Wexford Park, and four of their forwards were held scoreless.

Now, as regular readers of this column know, I have repeatedly written over the last year that this great Dublin team was in decline.

They have been there for the taking for the last two seasons.

Here’s why I felt they would not win a seventh All-Ireland title in a row.

They lost too many key players – Jack Mc Caffrey, Paul Mannion and Diarmuid Connolly – were all blessed with the X-factor, which meant they were irreplaceable.

The fiasco surrounding the non-availability of Stephen Cluxton was an unnecessary distraction.

In his attempt to avoid the limelight, Cluxton actually made the situation ten times worse.

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 Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton wave goodbye to the Hill

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton wave goodbye to the Hill

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton wave goodbye to the Hill

Being caught breaking the Covid-19 training ban not only damaged the Dublin brand, but it impacted negatively on the squad as well.

From a purely football perspective they lacked scoring power from the bench – five points in four championship games is not sufficient at the highest level.

Likewise, their goalscoring rate – two in total and none in three of their championship games – was not up to scratch.

I thought a couple of individual players spent too much time embellishing their profile on social media.

Jim Gavin would never have tolerated that kind of individualism.

But the main reason for the demise was a very obvious change in their game plan.

For the best part of a decade Dublin had the most skilful players.

They were virtually unbeatable, because they played a high-tempo, quick-transition, front-foot attacking style which enabled them to bury teams at will.

But in the last two seasons they abandoned that approach in favour of a possession-based, recycling style which at times was performed at walking pace.

It was repetitive and monotonous and about as exciting as watching a fella paint a wall. The Dubs are better than that.

They ought to have stayed focussed on their strengths, which was pulverising opposition.

Instead, they became obsessed with the process and sticking to it. Ultimately, it cost them dearly.

But let’s not forget they were great champions and the players were brilliant role models.

There was an inevitably about what happened to them last weekend.

The vast majority of all sporting careers eventually end in failure. It is just a fact of life.

What set them apart was their ability to stay motivated for so long. Unlike professional sport, where success equates to better pay, all that motivates an elite GAA player is an All-Ireland medal.

After two or three, does the final tally matter much?

The Dublin players broke the mould in coming back, year after year, and winning.

And, by the way, they won’t be away for too long.

So, enjoy this non-Dublin All-Ireland final. I know it is the first since 2014 but we mightn’t see it again for a while.

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