Is Diarmuid Connolly still the best Gaelic footballer on the planet?

Jim Gavin has escaped criticism, which is understandable given the winning run he has led Dublin on throughout the last three championships. However, he should cop some for what he did yesterday — or rather what he didn’t do.

Is Diarmuid Connolly still the best Gaelic footballer on the planet?

Ciarán Kilkenny was really poor and how he stayed on the field for 80-plus minutes I don’t know. Michael Fitzsimons struggled against Andy Moran and yet he wasn’t moved away from him. The decisions to stick by those two players defied logic as did continuing with Cian O’Sullivan as a sweeper when he was ruled null and void for a long time by the way Mayo played.

I don’t buy into this idea that this Dublin team are the best we’ve ever seen. They are hugely successful and will likely continue to be but a lot of that has to be based on the opposition and the number of challenges which they are faced with.

Yesterday was the biggest test they received all championship and that almost cost them as they weren’t examined much up to the final. It’s what they have coming off the bench that helps them to either turn games in their favour or to close out matches but the day will come when they can no longer call on that great class of reinforcements.

Regardless of the Super Eight next year, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if these two teams are in the final for a third season in a row in 2018. That shouldn’t worry anybody if we continue to get the entertainment and quality of football that these sides produce so often.

Inevitably, there will be fingers pointed at Stephen Rochford too. That would only be in keeping with the theme of the season and he does deserve some criticism. For instance, Mayo mismanaged the last 20 minutes of the game. But then management is about having a hunch and going with it.

The more I watch All-Ireland finals between these two teams, the more I realise certain moments turn games. An interesting one in this one was in the 41st minute when Aidan O’Shea lost the ball. After that, he was really and truly out of the game and offered Mayo little. He had played a great match up until then but then went missing when Mayo needed him most.

All I can remember of O’Shea in the closing stages was kicking wide a point attempt with the outside of his boot. When you see Mayo lose yet another All-Ireland final — and yet again by a point — it will give rise to more theories about the curse.

I hate that concept — Mayo have a problem of getting over the finishing line — but there were times yesterday when it felt as if they were haunted by something because very little went right for them over the 70 plus minutes.

Is Diarmuid Connolly still the best Gaelic football on the planet? I would have started him yesterday but it worked out alright in the end. The brilliant thing about Connolly is that he wants to do the simple things first and he did that really well, time after time. It shows the maturity of the guy.

Things have obviously changed for him this year and I would argue that the 12-week ban had a bigger effect on him than most people realise.

I felt it had the potential to be the line in the sand for him and the more I looked at him yesterday the more that seemed to be the case as he showed his class and kept his head.

And to answer my question — yes, he still is the best Gaelic footballer on the planet.

Mayo are one of the greatest teams we have ever seen. They have everything except the obvious. Nobody knows how fine the margin between success and defeat is more than this bunch. Teams are often judged harshly by how much silverware they’ve won and Mayo are now without any since the Connacht championship two years ago.

But I keep coming back to a point I made about a conversation I had with Waterford legend Ken McGrath — he maintains people remember his team as a great one.

It won’t give Mayo any solace to know they will live long in the memories of neutrals like myself who know what they have contributed to football this decade. I don’t know how they can jump onto a bus today and go through the whole homecoming thing again. Their supporters have been good to them but I’m not so sure pats on the backs now is any way beneficial to the team. Every year people ask will Mayo be back and every year there is more doubt but I guarantee they will be back competing for the biggest prize next year.

It was a privilege to be in Croke Park. This year’s championship will rightly be ridiculed for its lack of quality and some of the naive football that was played but this final will mask a lot of those early summer shortcoming.

Yes, a good portion of it was defensive but these were two teams that wanted to beat each other rather than either try and be hard to beat or even attempt to make the other wilt with frustration.

They were teams who were physical, athletic and more than capable of playing football. Because they were willing to give it a go, it provided a spectacle. It was tough and it was rugged and Joe McQuillan left as much go as he could. Masculine football like this is going to inspire the next generation.

We can all be very down on the GAA at times but as a neutral I didn’t leave the stadium feeling short-changed.

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