Posted by Ciarán Whelan
Monday 24 September 2012
In fairness to Mayo they made a good stab at a comeback after the terrible start they had, outscoring their opponents by three points for the remainder of the game following the concession of 2-01 in the first ten minutes.
To give away seven points without reply is very difficult to recover from, especially when you’re a young side at a relatively early stage of your development. It’s crucial to start well but it was a nightmare for Mayo so soon into a game against a side who just don’t give away leads.
Donegal deserve huge credit. They’ve won an All-Ireland the hard way, beating the top sides along the way. It demonstrates to every county that you can achieve something extraordinary if you get the right guy at the top who will find the best 30 players in the county and eek out the very best from them.
It’s amazing to look at where Donegal were two years ago and where they are now: the undisputed best team in the country.
They would’ve aimed for this type of start and they got it. But Mayo contributed to their early downfall. They were edgy and their handling was very poor. There was little sticking inside and Donegal backs were very much on top.
Then Kevin McLaughlin kick-started the revival for them and for the second half of that opening period they were on top. They started to get a grip around midfield and Donegal slipped into comfort mode.
Mayo dragged themselves back into the game with some great scores from McLaughlin, Enda Varley and Michael Conroy. That got them back to three points but, realistically, if you were told before the game Donegal would go in three points up at the break you’d have expected them to go on and win it.
And Mayo had those chances at a vital time but unfortunately Varley drove an easy free wide and Barry Moran followed that up by dropping a shot just wide when a score was really needed.
Donegal, as we’ve seen them do all summer, displayed great patience in working the ball down the field. They won a couple of frees and it was psychologically important that they kept that gap between themselves and the underdogs.
They showed great professionalism in closing out the game. Mayo had moved Aidan O’Shea in in front of the square but Donegal simply dropped a man back and to sweep up in front of the big midfielder.
There are positives for Mayo. The manner in which this young side worked their way back into the game offers much hope. It would have been easy for them to roll over and die but they kept plugging away.
This wasn’t Donegal’s best game but they were always doing enough to stay ahead. I thought Michael Murphy was superb, as was their full-back line. Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath were magnificent and that was Donegal’s strongest line. They totally snuffed out any threat Mayo posed and broke forward well.
Jim McGuinness’s side did give away an awful lot of frees, though, and that allowed Mayo to keep chipping away at the lead. But they are phenomenal champions and they deserve all the plaudits they get.
They are at a different stage on their development than Mayo. They perfected that long ball in on top of Murphy in the opening exchanges and Kevin Keane struggled to deal with the big man.
Mayo were trying that long, direct ball but it wasn’t working for them. They worked extremely hard and there is no doubt they emptied the tanks but sometimes they gave away the ball sloppily. It was a patchy performance from them and when you reflect on their display it’s hard to pick out their best player because they all had their moments. But they just couldn’t find that consistent approach over 70 minutes.
I never bought into the theory that Mayo might come through just because they were the underdogs. A lot of people were tipping them but Donegal were favourites for a reason. They were very impressive on the way to the final and had achieved a high level of consistency all year.
Mayo can take far more from this game than they could in 2004 and 2006 when they got hammered on both occasions. It’s a much better platform from which to launch themselves and improve and come back stronger next year.
Donegal have expended huge energy winning only their second ever All-Ireland but it’s far too early to be talking about whether they might be able to retain the title.
It will be a huge test for the manager but they won’t be thinking about that because the county will be in overdrive for a while celebrating this success. There will be waves of euphoria washing over the northwest for the foreseeable future and it will be a while before they start thinking about putting back-to-back titles together, something we’ve seen is so difficult to achieve.
Their supporters deserve to celebrate this success but I thought both sets of fans at Croke Park created an extraordinarily electric atmosphere. As a neutral I was really looking forward to this game. It had the X-factor of offering something different and it was going to be fantastic for whoever won it.
It was a hugely enjoyable event. There was such colour and buzz around the place and it has genuinely given the GAA a lift. I don’t think it was a great championship overall. I enjoyed the semi-finals and final but the provincial championships were easily forgotten.
We’ve experienced over the last couple of weeks how important our Gaelic games are to us. Both sets of fans got completely involved in the build-up. The identity of the two teams in the final added to the sense of occasion and in the end we got a team worthy of the name champions.
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