Posted by Mickey Harte

Mayo's off the cuff style against Donegal'l impenetrable system makes the final a fascinating prospect

2012 Donegal

One of the keys to Mayo’s victory was their ability to turn their dominance into scores. They probably would have been happy to go into half-time with the game nip and tuck but would never have expected a six-point lead.

I think the fact that they had a spread of scores and weren’t afraid to take shots on was crucial, as was Kevin McLoughlin’s role in linking defence and attack.

And the combination of the two wing-forwards, with Alan Dillon in that playmaker role, was the foundation for their success.

But sometimes you can be dominant and not make it count on the scoreboard. So to have 12 points scored by the break was a fantastic achievement.

Sometimes the best way to defend a lead is to attack it and they did that in the second half. They would have been expecting a backlash from Dublin after the home team had time to re-think their strategy but, ultimately, it was Mayo who started brighter again.

What they wouldn’t have expected was to go so far ahead just ten minutes after the break. The finishing line was in sight from a long way off and I’m sure none of the Mayo players had dreamed up that scenario in the weeks leading up to the game.

But when Dublin start chipping away at a lead the Hill is a big factor in helping them when they get a run at you. I remember in 2005 when we went in seven points up at half-time and then went eight points up early in the second period. Suddenly they got five points in a row and when they get on a roll it sometimes seems as if they Hill sucks the ball over the bar for them.

That gives the team more energy and it is a factor in Dublin’s success. When they give the fans something to cheer about, the team usually responds again so it’s a reciprocal relationship they have with the fans and it’s very hard to stem the tide once they get going.

It’s very difficult when you’re looking on from the sideline to turn things around when the play starts going against you. You really need people on the field who can use their experience to break the stranglehold of the other side.

Generally, it’s not a personnel switch that makes the difference. It’s someone on the field making a block when they’ve no right to get there or someone winning the hard, dirty ball.

It’s like sand falling through your fingers when you’re facing an onslaught and often there is no immediate way of stopping it falling through. That’s why experienced players are so important — someone who will get that score to stop the flow.

Mayo had almost reached an unassailable position early in the second half so all they had to do from there was kick the odd point. But for a long time they couldn’t do that and Dublin were able to kick over score after score and if Bernard Brogan’s shot had gone in I believe Dublin would have won and we’d be talking about one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

It’s that fine a line. People are now saying Dublin are a spent force and that they’ve been on the ropes all year but season’s hinge on such fleeting moments. If Brogan had put that ball away we might be talking about Dublin as favourites to retain the All-Ireland.

Instead the county will now embark on the process of finding a new man to lead them next year. It’s a personal decision for any manager when they decide to step away from it all. It consumes you and it dominates your thinking. You’re always looking at the game gone by and looking ahead to the next one to see where you can improve.

You’re thinking about your tactics and how you employ them. You’re thinking about your training programme and the individual engagements you have with all of your squad. It never ends.

You’re looking at the little things that went wrong and even though you can’t change history you have to try to apply the lessons to the next game. From a manager’s point of view that’s something you either relish or find too much. You have to accept that it’s a non-stop learning process and try to enjoy the privilege of being in charge of your county team. It need not be stressful but it certainly can be sometimes.

For Pat Gilroy it was a massive challenge to bring Dublin to the heights he did, especially considering the workload he has outside of football running a very successful company.

It takes a lot of energy to win an All-Ireland and we’ve seen how difficult it is to back it up with another one. He and his players did well this year but sometimes there is another manager and another team who do it slightly better. It depends on whether you have the appetite and desire to go through it all again and that might have nothing to do with the fact that your team lost.

Gilroy would have wanted to do what was right for the county, as he has always done. He has served Dublin well, though, because he achieved something that the county hadn’t done since 1995.

But Mayo deserved their win and it’s a novel pairing in the final. I think it’s great for the neutrals as well as the counties involved. It’s also an inspiration for all those teams who feel that an All-Ireland final is beyond their reach, particularly if they look at Donegal who’ve shown what can be done in the space of a couple of years after a first round qualifier defeat against Armagh in 2010.

Mayo have a very realistic chance of breaking this so-called bad record in finals at Croke Park. It’s an intriguing match-up because, on one side, you have Donegal who are a very composed team with a set style of play that Jim McGuinness has been implementing over the last two years.

Then you look at James Horan’s side who on their day are capable of beating anyone and play a different style of football. In McLoughlin they have a player in the mould of Mark McHugh except that he doesn’t sweep from quite a deep a position as the Donegal player.

There are similarities between the sides but plenty more differences and that’s what makes it so interesting. That’s what we like to see in finals: how one method of play will stand up against the other.

There are lots of contrasts between the sides with Mayo playing more off the cuff than Donegal. Horan’s side are quick at the back, their scores can come from anywhere and they have a flamboyant style about them.

The Ulster champions play to a very high level and all of their players have bought into the method of play. It’s going to be a clash of ideologies and styles and that’s going to make for a very interesting final.