Posted by Shane Stapleton

Dublin didn't produce their best in a game that failed to live up to the hype - but this group of players will be remembered as greats now


The team that stopped blinking first won.

That side is Dublin and they have deservedly regained their All-Ireland title, confirming that they will be remembered as a great team and not just a good one — but for so long they and Mayo fumbled through this game.

The Dubs got to the final and past it the hard way though, beating arguably the best teams in the land: Cork, Kerry and Mayo — just as Donegal had done in 2012.

Both sides tried to leave this one behind them though: Mayo in missing so many chances in the first half and Dublin in taking so long to validate their ticket and travel at all during this final. Mayo have had a habit of beginning games haphazardly — last year’s All-Ireland final, not to mention their two most recent semi-finals — and the trend continued against Dublin.

Rather than leaving the back door open for chances and easy scores this time, the Connacht men were instead making some moves for the front but kept missing. Four out of their first five chances went wide or were blocked, with Diarmuid Connolly’s equaliser for the Dubs during that time a defensive gift from the opposition.

James Horan’s men led 0-3 to 0-1 after 10 minutes and had settled into the final; in fact, they were in control. And not just on the scoreline but in the battle for the dirty ball too. In terms of turning over possession and winning 50-50 balls, Mayo were 9-3 in the ascendancy in those opening 10 minutes.

If they were going to win this game, they had to build up a bigger lead in the first half and manager Horan bemoaned having such a slender advantage at the break.

By the 25th minute, the western men had created 15 chances to five but were just two points ahead: 0-7 to 1-2. That would never do and they seemed to run out of vim from then on, possibly shackled by that. Dublin were creating the goal chances and, in fact, more of the scoring opportunities in general; for the final 45 minutes, it was 22 to 12 for the Dubs in terms of openings.

The 50-50 statistics had changed too: 42-28 to Dublin for the remaining hour. And that partly explains why Jim Gavin’s side always seemed to be the more likely winner. The team with the space, the ones winning their own kickouts under little pressure, and the force apparently with another gear to change into.

They never pulled away and that was partly down to them not quite hitting the same level as their semi-final win over Kerry, and also Mayo not hitting that which they managed against Donegal. In some ways, it was reminiscent of the Green and Red's semi-final win over Tyrone, but against a far superior opposition who ultimately punished them.

As against Kerry, victory didn’t come smoothly for Dublin. Gavin was forced to make a number of substitutions, along with the planned ones, and all three of his young guns — Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey and Ciaran Kilkenny — were pulled out of the game by the 43rd minute. The Castleknock man had five shots at the target but the latter four all failed, and it was no shock to see him withdrawn with 27 minutes to go.

Of course Mayo had to reach into the bench too because Alan Dillon struggled to keep pace, while Alan Freeman had been ill and, in his manager’s words, was “lethargic”. Cillian O’Connor came through the game but missed some early frees and wasn’t massively involved in open play.

Kevin McLoughlin ran at McCaffrey as hard as he could and though he escaped pressure from the Clontarf kid to fashion shooting chances a couple of times in the first half, the sheer effort of getting into those positions must have weakened his legs before the errant shots. Plan A didn’t quite fire, and the forwards that came on for Mayo didn’t light up the game either.

Seamus O’Shea was taken off with 10 minutes to go but he certainly had the better game of his two brothers, with the question being whether shielding the defence plays to the strengths of Aidan. As brilliant as he is in the physical stakes and no matter how many good days he has had under the high ball, he probably does not have the mobility to be a road block.

Too often, the surging Dublin pace men went past him and his defence seemed exposed – though in no way does the role of Aidan O’Shea explain away this entire issue.

It was a confluence of factors: those 50-50s, scoring two goals to one and creating more major chances than that. Dublin also claimed more of their own kickouts (19/22) than Mayo (17/21) and as much as we would compliment Stephen Cluxton, he consistently had the options that Robert Hennelly did not.

Eight times the Dubs keeper hit short balls while the Mayo stopper managed to do so on just five occasions because he had no one making runs. The alternative then is to go long and turn good possession into 50-50 ball. Even if you do win it, you’re under more pressure than a man who picks it up under little pressure from a clever Cluxton pass.

When it came down to it, Dublin were able to put up the scores. In the second half, Gavin’s side hit 1-6 to play while Mayo managed just a goal. Certainly, the Dubs were cynical and that partly explains that statistic.

If you are a Mayo fan, you would ask why you weren’t allowed the 30 seconds to score an equaliser when the players were told there would be before O’Connor hit a late free over. You’re right to be aggrieved but you still know the better team came out on top.

A great team won, but not with a great performance and not in a great game.

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