The GAA Championship, Week Eight: Dublin Six, Mayo Cursed

by | Dec 26, 2020

It was easier in the end than most Dublin wins over Mayo in All-Ireland finals/semi-finals. RTE match co-commentator Kevin McStay was heralding a “magnificent seven” as the Dubs celebrated their All-Ireland football title six- in-a-row. And Paddy Prendergast, and Mayo’s “curse,” live on (see below).

In the build-up to 2019’s final, future ex-RTE pundit Joe Brolly addressed Kerry’s oft-cited desire to be “still in the match” in the closing stages (which I originally mis-typed as “losing stages,” as they usually are for Dublin’s modern opposition). “Yes, but then you’ve got to go and fcukin’ win it,” noted the outspoken Derryman. This point proved pertinent then. And now. Mayo were within their neo-traditional one point of the Dubs as the teams took their final water break of Championship 2020. But, as per, Dublin went “and fcuking won it.”

Dublin ‘won’ the final quarter 0-5 to 0-1. However, it wasn’t quite their usual expert game management. They turned the one-point water-break advantage into four with a points-scoring mini-blitz. And they had spells of trademark opposition-dispiriting possession. Yet Mayo regained possession at key points, only to waste it. And key refereeing decisions indisputably went Dublin’s way.

On 44 minutes, Mayo captain Aidan O’Shea was, in the words of RTE match commentator Ger Canning, “hauled down” by combative Dublin defender Johnny Cooper. “Black Card territory,” McStay noted, correctly. And with Dublin’s Robbie McDaid nearing the end of his ten-minute sin-bin spell, Cooper looked set to join him for a minute and replace him for nine. But, in a dollop of Christmas spirit, referee David Coldrick decided a free-in was sufficient sanction. And Cooper, controversially red-carded in 2019’s drawn final, was controversially not black-carded and sin-binned here…though he was soon enough booked for ‘persistent fouling.’

Two minutes later, with McDaid back in action, Dublin’s Michael Fitzsimons clattered into Mayo’s Lee Keegan, shaking the long-time Mayo star “to his gunnells” (McStay, clearly given a thesaurus as an early Christmas present and unafraid to use it). Coldrick viewed the challenge, which measured on the Richter scale, as a fair shoulder-charge. Replays, and Keegan’s lengthy rib injury treatment, suggested otherwise (“if it was any other mortal he’d be in the back of an ambulance” – McStay again).

In RTE’s Saturday Game highlights show, the pundits surmised that Fitzsimons’ reputation “saved” him, although Coldrick not deeming the full-frontal charge to BE a full-frontal charge, and therefore a foul, was surely more of a salvation. But, as Dublin pundit Ciaran Whelan noted, “whether it was a red card or a black card, it was a free-in and a point,” which would have drawn 15-man Mayo level with 14-man Dublin, with 24 minutes left. Thus reprieved, Dublin conceded only two more points.

For the first three quarters, though, it was a typically magnificent Dublin/Mayo match. Dublin’s Dean Rock goaled after THIRTEEN seconds, easily the fastest-ever goal in an All-Ireland final. The previous quickest was from Kerry’s Gerry McMahon after 34 seconds in 1962 against my team, Roscommon. Kerry won but I thought I’d mention it because my dad and his dad were there.

Anyway, 13 seconds was remarkably quick to work the ball 70 yards downfield, 15 seconds quicker than Sky Sports Little Mix were in getting their clock on-screen. But, equally remarkably, Mayo scored three points to level matters after THREE minutes (pity those watching on telly who had to go for a piss just before throw-in). More remarkably still, Mayo outscored Dublin 0-8 to 0-3 between Rock’s goal and the 23rd-minute. And they had outplayed the champions every bit as much as that scoring indicated.

But, whatever Limerick’s hurlers may have had you believe, goals DO usually win matches. And Con O’Callaghan’s fiercely punched effort after a typically slick Dublin move went a long way to winning this one. I’m unsure what O’Callaghan had in his gloves. But if he’d hit a Mayo chin that hard, said Mayo chin, even Lee Keegan’s, would have been in the back of an ambulance.

Dublin led 2-6 to 0-10 at the end of the sort of breathtaking half which had you wondering how loud a full Croke Park would have been in cheering the teams to their dressing-rooms. Many of the champions’ bigger names had intermittent impacts on proceedings. For example, Ciaran Kilkenny, a metronomically regular scorer against all-comers hadn’t scored in four championship meetings with Mayo. This drought looked set to continue when Kilkenny horribly hooked one very presentable first-half point chance. But just before half-time, he squeezed a shot from a slightly more complex position just inside the post.

Thus inspired, he added two more points in a much-improved personal second-half display, matching Dublin’s general improvements. Dublin were also helped by the literally ‘all-star’ quality of their substitutes. In 2019, Dublin’s Brian Howard and Paul Mannion were in the official team-of-the-year, the “All-Stars.” On Saturday, both were second-half subs, with Howard a game-changer. Mayo had to replace the excellent Paddy Durcan at half-time and didn’t have that quality on their bench.

Despite the above-mentioned mini-misfortunes, this was not one of those accursed, supernaturally-driven defeats. It was, however, their 11th final defeat since their last All-Ireland title in 1951. It was also, gob-smackingly, their 10th since 1989 and, more gob-smackingly still. their fifth since 2012. And “all” because of the curse. Apparently, a priest saw the Mayo team bus on the way home from the final not stopping at a funeral cortege to pay respects. So he cursed Mayo never to win an All-Ireland until all that team had died. 94-year-old full-back Paddy Prendergast survives. SO Mayo lost again.

Some of Mayo’s wretched finals’ luck has had the whiff of the accursed about it. But the case can quite level-headedly be made that they haven’t been good enough in the more distant past and they have, of course, run up against the all-time best in the more recent past.

So Dublin march on. Their under-20s were All-Ireland finalists this year. And immediate post-teens such as Lee Gannon could easily step up should the senior squad need replenishment. It might not yet though (which may nudge “dual star” Gannon towards hurling). Even 39-year-old goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton’s form hasn’t significantly fallen away, with a consensus building that he’ll only miss out on an “All-Star” this year because he’s had nothing to do, itself a hugely pertinent comment on Dublin’s 2020 dominance.

For all the inevitability, and ease, of Dublin’s triumph, it was a midway-decent football championship. And, mercifully, played without serious Covid implications.

RTE won the TV coverage battle, almost covering Joe Brolly’s loss with greater use of McStay…no-one says “tremendous” better. Presenter Grainne McElwain and pundit Jim McGuiness, meanwhile, improved Sky considerably, although only fractionally closing the gap on RTE overall. And Sky’s insistence on fake crowd noise was dismal, especially when maintaining it through the minutes’ silence in Cork on Bloody Sunday.

Perhaps too much is made of the morale boosts provided by the Gaelic Athletic Association championships. But amateur, geographically-representative competitions provide these way more effectively than the bought-in, contrived teams of top-flight professional soccer. I’ve needed morale boosts this winter. Championship has provided them. And I will miss it now it’s gone. So, thank you everybody. And stay safe.