Posted by Daragh Ó Conchúir

It is a bit early for Mayo and Dublin to be thinking about the future but the chances are that Jim Gavin and James Horan will be doing just that within the next few weeks

Bernard Brogan   Ger Cafferkey Mayo   Dublin

It is a bit early for the respective teams to be thinking about the future but the chances are that Jim Gavin and James Horan will be doing just that within the next few weeks.

In elite sport, standing still is going backwards so even Dublin will need to evolve if they are to retain their title.

The traditional post-All-Ireland guff about the champions being likely to dominate the future has been prevalent but then this talk has been following Dublin for the past couple of years. If there are genuine reasons to believe it might happen, the weight of evidence suggests that there will never be a monopoly.

The current team is young. They have an abundance of talent already in their ranks and more to come through in the likes of Cormac Costello. Much has been made of the huge investments they have made, the money generated by the type of sponsorships every other county can only dream of.

Yet they are catering for significantly more people than any other county, so they need more cash to run the game, more coaches to attend schools and clubs. Running such a sizeable ship has its own difficulties too and it doesn’t guarantee results.

After plenty of recent underage success, Dublin weren’t a factor at minor or U21 level this year. These things go in cycles. They will win more titles but they won’t prove forever unstoppable.

More than the money, what Dublin are doing is professional now, from top to bottom. Obviously money facilitates that, particularly when you’re talking about Dublin having a representative at every Division 1 league game this year, the extent of their backroom staff and the fact that players are given meals to bring home to ensure that their nutritional needs are being met.

But Paul Caffrey had a 16-man backroom set-up and while his Dublin reign is subject to ridiculously harsh criticism given the establishment of the Dubs’ Leinster dominance, there was no All-Ireland accruing.

 

Hunger

So there are no guarantees. Will some of the younger players that had tough experiences on Sunday learn from them, or will they be scarred? Will the general hunger and willingness to do the hard yards reduce after a few months of superstar treatment at Coppers and Lillie’s?

These are intangibles but there is no doubt that Dublin’s edge was blunted in 2012, though they weren’t far from another final appearance. Donegal couldn’t hit the heights this year, with a startling catalogue of injuries clearly coming in a third year of savagely intense preparation.

Teams don’t win back-to-back All-Irelands. Kerry were the last side to do it in 2007. Prior to that, it was Cork in 1990. Tyrone won three All-Ireland in the noughties but they didn’t reach another final. Kerry had to appear in six consecutive finals – eight in 10 seasons – to achieve their feat.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, the two-in-a-row is the new three–in-a-row. Eircom GAA ambassador, Colm Cooper revealed in that column that the players had a very real desire to win in 2007 because they recognised it as a new, very real and significant landmark. That is the target Dublin must set themselves next year, but it won’t be easy.

 

Mayo going nowhere

It is no walk in the park for Mayo either, but I don’t see them disappearing into the mists. Losing without performing anywhere near their best will hurt badly, particularly as it is their second consecutive loss.

The county has been down this road but this time, the age profile is significantly better. Everything this squad of players and management has shown in the past three campaigns suggests this is not a dying kick.

What’s more, they have a team of All-Ireland-winning minors to fuel them over the coming years. One or two of them should be able to come into the camp straight away, with Conor Loftus and Tommy Conroy amongst the most exciting prospects.

Loftus and Conroy would provide much needed competition to an attack in need of fresh impetus. There will be hope that Cathal Carolan and Darren Coen can move up a level after making their championship debuts, while Cillian O’Connor will have his shoulder problems sorted by an operation.

Meanwhile, Alan Dillon and Andy Moran won’t have the injury-interrupted preparations that robbed them of their sharpness, until the latter’s outstanding display on Sunday. It was ironic that Moran’s selection was questioned beforehand and he ultimately proved the only one of the forwards to really produce.

Kevin McLoughlin started well but faded, while Keith Higgins was outstanding until relocated to his more natural defensive role. Horan caught some flak for that but it seems to have escaped the critics’ attention that even though Mayo were dangerous up front in the opening period when Higgins was so prominent, and can point to their profligacy denying them a greater interval lead than one point, Dublin wasted two goal chances and four or five point opportunities themselves.

Higgins’ pace was needed defensively and he did well there. It was robbing Peter to pay Paul but Horan couldn’t just hope that Dublin would keep missing, or that Rob Hennelly would keep producing heroics.

(Note: Hennelly wrapped up save of the year with his stop from Eoghan O’Gara, didn’t he? It’s one thing making yourself big and the ball hitting off you. It’s another to show the startling reflexes that saw him raise his left hand so quickly, while maintaining the strong wrist, to stop O’Gara’s powerfully-hit shot from close range.)

Horan is an astute operator. He will look at it forensically and produce improvements. The very best make mistakes but they are deleted by victory. They are magnified by defeat though, particularly those of the one-point variety. Mayo should do all they can to get him to stay.

When it came down to it, they weren’t good enough. Next year they might be. Their squad should be stronger than ever, with some input from the minors and the likes of Richie Feeney, Kevin Keane, Mickey Conroy (another whose season was ruined by injury), Barry Moran and Enda Varley also pushing hard.

And Connacht doesn’t look the stiffest task right now. They can’t take their eye off the ball but they look streets ahead of the rest of the west at the moment.

So there is plenty to look forward to. For both teams, if they’re up for the challenge.

Only eight months until the whole process begins again. 

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