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exclusive Dublin were there for the taking...and maybe Kerry or Donegal would have done the job

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Brothers John, left, and Paddy Small of Dublin lift the Sam Maguire Cup the victory over Mayo

Brothers John, left, and Paddy Small of Dublin lift the Sam Maguire Cup the victory over Mayo

SPORTSFILE

Brothers John, left, and Paddy Small of Dublin lift the Sam Maguire Cup the victory over Mayo

Salute Dublin, the six-in-a-row All-Ireland football champions.

They comfortably fell over the finish line in last night’s All-Ireland Final at Croke Park. And let me explain that.

Dublin won handily enough in the end, yet they were there for the taking last night — but maybe the wrong team was there facing Dublin.

I know, I know, Kerry didn’t even win a match in this year’s Championship.

But if they’d been there last night, or if Donegal had been there, they might have believed in themselves in the second-half.

You can do nothing but admire Dublin’s game management from the moment Robbie McDaid came back from the sin-bin 10 minutes into the second-half.

No pass was wasted, no mad shots from crazy positions were attempted.

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Dublin players Michael Fitzsimons, left, and David Byrne, right, celebrate

Dublin players Michael Fitzsimons, left, and David Byrne, right, celebrate

SPORTSFILE

Dublin players Michael Fitzsimons, left, and David Byrne, right, celebrate

They trusted each other’s skills and waited for the opening to arrive to strike.

Brian Howard and Paul Mannion made a huge difference from the bench and some of the Dubs’ big players who had been poor in the first half, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny for two, took the contest by the scruff of the neck.

For Mayo, it was more of the same. Four of their starting six forwards didn’t score in the match; yet again Aidan O’Shea didn’t score in an All-Ireland final and Cillian O’Connor never remotely looked like scoring the 4-3 from play as he did against Tipperary.

Indeed, no Mayo player ever looked like scoring a goal over the entire 70 minutes.

And in that, they join the rest of Dublin’s opponents in 2020 – no goal conceded in the Championship, it’s a remarkable feat.

If you don’t believe that goals win matches, here’s a start for you.

Since the modern Dublin-Mayo rivalry began with the Westerners’ win in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, Dublin have outscored Mayo by 16 goals to six. That tells you everything.

Now the five Kerrymen who have eight All-Ireland medals have company, blue company, lots of it.

With the GAA deciding that the All-Ireland Football final of 2021 will be played in July, our time at the top could be coming to an end.

Yet in the hour before the match, I admit I was dreading last night’s game.

I’ve always viewed the 2020 All-Ireland Championship as a box-ticking exercise and I just wasn’t sure we should be doing this.

It had given us great moments of emotion, but I was worried that Dublin would romp to victory.

After 13 seconds, my worst thoughts became nightmares. Dean Rock’s goal was the start Mayo dreaded, they let Dublin stroll through from midfield to score the fastest goal ever in an All-Ireland Final.

Yet, you have to be proud of the way Mayo fought back into the game.

Their heads stayed up, Green and Red players looked for good passes and they took their chances to stay in the game.

They got all their match-ups right, or they almost did. Key Dublin players like Fenton, Kilkenny and, after his early goal, Rock, did little enough in the first 35 minutes.

But the one they did not get right, Con O’Callaghan, haunted them.

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Philip McMahon celebrates with Michael Fitzsimons and Robert McDaid

Philip McMahon celebrates with Michael Fitzsimons and Robert McDaid

SPORTSFILE

Philip McMahon celebrates with Michael Fitzsimons and Robert McDaid

The Cuala man scored the second goal and was a threat to score every time he got the ball.

Nobody seemed to have the job of man-to-man marking him. How can that be?

O’Callaghan’s goal stemmed from Dublin lads turning over Mayo players in possession, and to that you can add four points from the same problem.

Let no team tell you that you can’t crack Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs.

Mayo forced him to go long and won the aerial contest, or the breaking ball, about half the time.

With that in mind, I know making a switch 25 minutes into the game is not usually done for tactical reasons.

But Seán Bugler wasn’t doing a lot in attack and for a few minutes I thought that Dessie Farrell had missed a trick there?

Surely Howard would have been another outlet for Cluxton on Dublin’s kick-outs?

So Dublin had problems all over the pitch at the break, not least the fact that they would start the second half with 14 men for 10 minutes.

Yet you looked up at the half-time scoreboard, it showed Dublin two points ahead without having played well.

We should have remembered last year’s semi-final. Dublin are a second-half team and Mayo could not live with them last night.

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