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feeling blue The chorus of negativity surrounding this superb Dublin team continues to baffle and annoy me

"Dublin possess an incredible drive and determination to succeed. And that, my friends, is remarkable and has nothing to do with population and money," writes Pat Spillane.

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Dublin's Paddy Andrews and Philly McMahon celebrate as Brian Fenton looks on

Dublin's Paddy Andrews and Philly McMahon celebrate as Brian Fenton looks on

Dublin's Paddy Andrews and Philly McMahon celebrate as Brian Fenton looks on

The post-match commentary, in both print and broadcast media, after Dublin’s All-Ireland Final victory last weekend continues to baffle and annoy me.

It fell into three categories as Dublin’s superb six-in-a-row triumph was scrutinised.

Firstly, that the Championship is now a joke. Secondly, that the dominance of the Dubs, with their population and money, is destroying the GAA, and lastly, that hardy annual at this time of the year, that Mayo are glorious losers.

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John Small and brother Paddy of Dublin lift the Sam Maguire

John Small and brother Paddy of Dublin lift the Sam Maguire

John Small and brother Paddy of Dublin lift the Sam Maguire

Or, as one well-known pundit coined them, ‘celebrity losers’.

So many of the words written seemed to have been written down prior to the final actually being played.

Instead of analysing another Dublin victory, it was far easier to do a hatchet job – and to do the sort of negative piece that suits the narrative of social media.

Before I address those three topics, can I first of all praise ALL those who played in the All-Ireland Football Championship of 2020.

You inspired us, even if you were on one of the 16 teams which got only one outing this year.

There are so many others who should be applauded too for providing us with a shining light and a tonic that lifted people over the last couple of dark months – literally.

There’s the GAA’s powers-that-be who, after a stuttering start in the spring, provided steady leadership and a clearly defined roadmap of what was needed to get the competition played.

I salute the managements who worked so hard in order that the games could be played.

And what about the groundstaff at all grounds around the country who did superbly in this winter championship?

Yet kudos above all to those in Croke Park, where in spite of hosting 27 games in eight weeks, they produced a pitch in super shape all the way up until the football final on the week before Christmas.

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A dejected Aidan O'Shea of Mayo

A dejected Aidan O'Shea of Mayo

A dejected Aidan O'Shea of Mayo

Finally, too, a word of thanks to Micheal Martin and the government. Politicians are handy targets and easy scapegoats in times like this.

Yet the Taoiseach (inset below) said he wanted a Championship played as a symbol of the country’s fightback against Covid.

But, more importantly, the government backed up his words with a grant of €15million to the GAA which insured that the event could go ahead.

Let me get one other thing crystal clear. Would I like to see a similar type of Championship run off next year?

And remember under the new proposals, it will all be done and dusted by the end of July.

The answer is a very emphatic No.

True, it was important that an All-Ireland, any All-Ireland, be played this year, but there was something lacking about it all too.

Without crowds, noise, and colour, there was something sterile about the matches.

It’s a bit like going to a supermarket and buying their own brand generic products that mimic the real thing. It’s not the same – and that’s what we got in the 2020 Championship.

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Mayo's Lee Keegan is tackled by Jonny Cooper

Mayo's Lee Keegan is tackled by Jonny Cooper

Mayo's Lee Keegan is tackled by Jonny Cooper

Yes, I know there was a need for rules and regulations, but given that the virus is rarely transmitted outdoors, they were somewhat over the top.

I, for one, do not want to see empty stadiums, hard-earned trophies having to be left behind, or All-Ireland champions having to go undercover to avoid their own supporters on the night of their All-Ireland triumph.

For example, Limerick got a late night train out of Dublin and then left it at Limerick Junction – to avoid any chance of meeting a crowd in Limerick city.

Or the Dubs, last weekend, behind the locked gates of Parnell Park, getting in a delivery of food. No thanks, that’s not for me.

Now to the three issues I said I would confront.

No, the Championship is not a joke, Yes, the Leinster Championship is a shambles, and the All-Ireland semi-finals were one-sided non-events.

But that’s what happens when you get a straight knockout, with no backdoor and no Super 8s.

Take it from me, Mayo’s hammering of Tipperary in the last four means the Super 8s will come back to stay once this virus is behind us.

Not for next year, but in 2022 and every year from then on.

Tipp and Cavan were worthy provincial winners, but if Kerry and Donegal had got a second chance they would have been in the last four.

And, whisper it quietly, if either of them had been level with the Dubs with 20 minutes to go in the final, the story we are telling today might be a very different one.

There were great moments from the year now ending. This year’s Connacht Championship was in doubt until the last kick of the final.

The Munster championship was a revelation with two matches being won by the team from a lower division of the league.

Two matches went to extra time and there were two one-point wining margins.

Ulster was the usual dogfight. Cavan gave us heroics in every game, while the Donegal-Tyrone showdown was a cracking Championship match.

Was it all any worse than the Pro14 in rugby, which is a proper joke? What about the Premier League, dominated by a few teams.

Or, God forbid, and keep it to yourself, but the game of the Gods was not all it was cracked up to be this year.

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Seán Bugler and Brian Howard celebrate

Seán Bugler and Brian Howard celebrate

Seán Bugler and Brian Howard celebrate

There were more bad hurling matches than good ones this year. But then we are not allowed criticise that game.

So to the Dubs’ population and money argument. If having more bodies is all that matters, why are Dublin not dominating hurling?

Why did the Dublin minor hurlers and footballers fail to get beyond the quarter-final of their Leinster Championships this year?

And if you want to talk about numbers, the Cork County Board has more clubs, more teams and more registered players than the Dublin County Board.

So why aren’t the Rebels winning everything every year?

As for money yes Dublin do get one big grant that no-one else gets. But they spend it on encouraging participation and coaching kids in schools and clubs, not on inter-county teams in any grade.

What we have here is a very special bunch of Dublin players. They are skilful, intelligent, and the tops at game management.

Look closely at the last 20 minutes of the final again, as Dublin players raised the bar to a place Mayo could not go.

Look at the progress of Ciaran Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan every year. Their mental resolve is unbelievable. As it that of free-taker, Dean Rock. Take Kilkenny, who in the first 30 minutes had only seven touches of the ball and kicked a bad wide with one of them.

In the second half he was on the ball 17 times and scored two great points to go with the one he got at the death of the first half. You see Ciaran never doubted himself.

Brian Fenton was no different. He was anonymous in the first half and then the most dominant player in the field in the second – with 22 possessions.

Dublin possess an incredible drive and determination to succeed. And that, my friends, is remarkable and has nothing to do with population and money.

It comes from within each player’s gut and from within the group.

From 1997 to 2013, Tiger Woods was Player of the Year in American golf 11 times in all, it was total dominance.

However his opponents didn’t want him handicapped, they did not insist he played left-handed, they didn’t try to denigrate Tiger’s achievements.

Instead they set out to beat him by raising their own standards.

Now for the final charge, of Mayo being the gallant and celebrity losers.

It’s an easy charge, but in my opinion it is factually incorrect.

This is a new Mayo team – it is in transition, and it surely over-achieved by getting to the All-Ireland Final.

They got an awful lot of things right against Dublin, but most importantly, they gave it their all. You can’t ask any more of a team.

But a quick bit of advice. Why are they falling short?

Not for the first time, with the finish line beckoning and a famous victory in sight, they froze.

Mayo’s game management and composure went out the window – it was the exact opposite of what happened with Dublin.

And the Green and Red are still short of a couple of class forwards.

Four of their starting six didn’t score from play in the All-Ireland Final and we saw no goal chance created.

Their sideline has to take a hit too. Everyone saw Tipperary players surge through the heart of the Mayo defence in the semi-final.

You’d think they would have spent some of the 13 days between the semi-final and final shoring that up in training.

What happened? Dublin charge straight through the middle and score a goal after 14 seconds.

And, finally, there was a total lack of ruthlessness in Mayo’s tactics. You’ve got to speculate to accumulate. At half-time Mayo knew they would spend the first ten minutes of the second 35 playing with a man extra.

What they did do? They brought on a sweeper, Michael Plunkett, and duly played him in the backs. That was the time to go for Dublin’s throat – and they didn’t do it.

No, 2020 belongs to the Dublin footballers. And as for the begrudgers, well there’s always Brendan Behan’s advice!

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