Posted by Shane Stapleton at Croke Park
Sunday 23 September 2012
Donegal don’t do chance.
Nothing is left to it and their gameplan doesn’t rely on it. Everything is purpose built and delivered on time. Sam Maguire was always heading to the Hills of.
From any blade of grass on the pitch, Donegal take a man on as quickly as possible and then find the man inevitably sprinting past their shoulder. Possession is seen as nine-tenths and not something to make 50-50. Over the course of 70 minutes, that took its toll on Mayo. As it did against Cork and those left on the floor before.
Because while other teams are also capable of this style of football, no one else can do it for 70 minutes with them. Not yet, anyway.
Of course none of this is to suggest that Donegal didn’t benefit from chance. James Horan spoke with great calm and clarity in the post-game press conference and the hobbyhorse he rode focused in on the basics. How simple mistakes gifted the Ulster side openings, from basic handling (a dropped ball by Kevin Keane gifted Colm McFadden a goal, for example) to decision-making. Offering up chances, in effect.
Throughout the game, Mayo fans must have been pulling their hair out at this facet of their play. To see their team hit some horrid wides, get blocked down needlessly, and play unfavourable ball in to the inside forwards would have been one hair-pulling exercise after the next.
Unfavourable ball in a couple of ways. Number one: slow ball with no angle in front of a forward where he is sprinting away from goals, or a bouncing ball that allows a forward up his rear — Michael Conroy was fed too many of these. Number two: too much hanging long ball went in the inside forward line, and that’s not exactly playing the percentages against a physically superior opposition.
Contrast that with how Donegal were able to isolate Michael Murphy and get that early goal. The size of the Glenswilly man caused a big issue for Mayo at the back from the outset, and was one of the reasons for Mayo mistakes. The high ball suits the side with the physical mismatch.
Had these errors not been so prevalent, Mayo might have pushed Donegal even closer. Because looking back on it, the mountain they had to climb meant they wore out as the game wore on.
Whereas the sides broken even in the first half relative to breaking and 50-50 balls, Donegal took over in the latter stages. Having won six of the first 10 of these at the start of the second half, Mayo won just three more of the remaining 19.
Horan may have been referring to the All-Ireland final as game five in an attempt to play down the occasion. It didn’t work, and we saw that because of the nervous start to the game.
It was reminiscent of their start against Dublin but, unlike against the outgoing champs, the incoming holders wrote Mayo’s obituary at the start of the game when Murphy and Colm McFadden each found the net. It could actually have been worse. Jason Doherty was yellow carded early on and could have received a second for kicking out; meanwhile Cillian O’Connor got in a scuffle too. This could easily have descended to a pummelling. But was it game over? Unexpectedly no.
Unexpected for the simple fact that any side would have struggled to recover from this. The start was oh no, followed by oh right. Mayo’s fingernails were giving way but a run of 0-7 to 0-3 before half-time, having gone 2-1 to naught behind, dragged them back in.
The courage of Mayo was admirable. Their defence was at times awesome — albeit almost half of Donegal’s scores came from frees — and they limited the Ulster side to just seven scores from play. There was one stretch of play in the 46th minute where Donegal were unable to get past the breathless Mayo defence and eventually Murphy kicked a wide. Frustratingly, Murphy won and scored a free moments later for a needless foul by Donal Vaughan. Because of the effort going in, the Heather County wilted at times.
And still they kept coming back with gluts of points to keep the game alive in the second half. If proof were needed that this Mayo team have not inherited the county’s past failures, this game is confirmation. It’s hard to imagine they will not be back, and perhaps next time they won’t gift the opposition a seven-point headstart.
You have to applaud the courage of McGuinness, while of course appreciating what he has done with these players. He dropped arguably his best player from 2011 and won the All-Ireland anyway. From This Is Our Year to this really isn’t yours, in the space of 12 months, Kevin Cassidy has lost out.
It was curious to see the post-match press conference unfold. McGuinness walked into the room, sat down and kept his head down as maybe four reporters shook his hand. He then got up, walked over to a staff member, whispered a few words in that man’s ear, and walked back out. Baffling. It transpired that McGuinness wanted the author of This is Our Year out of the room because of how the Donegal boss had been portrayed by Declan Bogue.
When McGuinness returned, he spent a couple of minutes articulating his displeasure at how his name had been dragged through the mud, and how he held his court all the while. The reason being that he did not want to give the story further legs, and that people would already have made their minds up about what had been said.
It was a surreal false start and eventual beginning to your first press conference as an All-Ireland winner. It didn’t end that way though, as the Donegal manager explained his immense satisfaction. Of how he couldn’t wait to have Sam sitting up at the front of the bus on the way home.
“The scenes out there will live in my mind for the rest of my life,” he smiled.
Chances are his side will be back too.
Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter @shanesaint
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