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era ends This Dublin team owes football nothing, no team has given the game more

No-one can begrudge these resilient men in the red and green as Dubs finally downed

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Lee Keegan (left) and RTÉ’s man of the match Pádraig O’Hora of Mayo leave the field after they had defeated Dublin at Croke Park.

Lee Keegan (left) and RTÉ’s man of the match Pádraig O’Hora of Mayo leave the field after they had defeated Dublin at Croke Park.

Lee Keegan (left) and RTÉ’s man of the match Pádraig O’Hora of Mayo leave the field after they had defeated Dublin at Croke Park.

A game of two halves, as they say. Or, better still, a game of four halves. What drama. But we shouldn’t have been surprised.

Dublin and Mayo have given us many a party over the years. And Saturday night was one of the best.

And when it was all over, Mayo were singing in the rain. Nobody would begrudge them. They have suffered so much heartache. Much of it at the hands, and the feet, of the Dubs.

I got to thinking back to a Dublin-Mayo All-Ireland semi-final that I played in 1985.

Driving down to Croke Park. Parking at the back of the Canal End. Walking up Jones’s Road, gear-bag on my shoulder, sharing the banter with the fans. It was a different world back then.

We were the favourites. But Mayo put on a super show. And the first game ended level.

We won well in the replay, but that day I was struck by the resilience of those Mayo players. They kept giving it their all.

And that has been the hallmark of Mayo teams all down the years.

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Dignified Dublin manager Dessie Farrell leaves the Croke Park battlefield after Mayo’s victory

Dignified Dublin manager Dessie Farrell leaves the Croke Park battlefield after Mayo’s victory

Dignified Dublin manager Dessie Farrell leaves the Croke Park battlefield after Mayo’s victory

Year after year, they have to carry the burden of ’51. Yet they keep coming back for more. And they proved that again last night.

All the talk during the week was that this Dublin team is slipping. I didn’t believe a word of it.

And my belief was confirmed by the way they ran onto the pitch. They sprinted down the tunnel. Like a team on a mission. Like a side that wanted to prove a point.

And how they did that. They settled so quickly into the match. They were soon covering the pitch and picking off their points.

They are such a selfless group. They play for one another. If the simple pass is on, they give it.

They brought plenty of pace to their play. And Mayo were on the back-foot. Trying to curb and curtail their runs.

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But these Dublin players never tire of the hard yards. There is always somebody on the shoulder willing and ready to take the pass.

Watching the early part of the game, the saying of the great American writer, Mark Twain, came into my head: ‘Rumours of Dublin’s demise have been greatly exaggerated!’

Ciarán Kilkenny was magnificent again in that first half. Such a team player. A really awesome footballer.

Brian Fenton’s catch in the first half was straight from the Gods. One that the great Brian Mullins would have been proud of.

And he made another wonderful catch in the second half. When the pressure was at its height.

Dublin were very much on the front foot in that first half. But in fairness to James Horan, he just didn’t stand and watch it all unfold.

He took action. But by starting Kevin McLoughlin, he had one ace that he couldn’t call on.

Yet he made a big call – replacing his captain, Aidan O’Shea (inset). And there was further concern for the Mayo fans when Eoghan McLaughlin had to go off with that unfortunate injury.

In the second half, there was always going to be a kick in Mayo. Dublin knew that. They would have prepared for that.

But I felt if Dublin could stay in charge in the first ten to twelve minutes of the second half, then the job was done.

But Mayo were brilliant after half-time. They showed such spirit. They turned the game on its head. They reminded me of the great Tyrone team, who always excelled in the second half of matches.

But Dublin’s scoring return after the interval, and in the extra-time, was poor. That wasn’t the form of All-Ireland champions.

Yet it developed into a thriller. And what a fabulous spectacle it was.

Such fantastic commitment by amateur sportsmen. And it was so good to see the crowd back on the Hill again. ‘Come on You Boys in Blue’ lifted my heart.

Mayo finished on the up. And they were lifted again by the sight of Aidan O’Shea coming back on.

The Jim Gavin era was exceptional. I don’t think Jim, his management and the players got the praise they deserved.

And then, after the five-in-a-row, Dessie Farrell comes in. It was like stepping into the boots of Alex Ferguson.

But Dessie, quietly and without any fuss, guided the team to another All-Ireland title.

Dublin owe football nothing. No team has given the game more. But fair play to Mayo.

They just keep climbing back up off the canvas.

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