Should Mayo have gambled and kept Andy Moran on?

Courageous. Resilient. Defiant. Brave. Every word a fair reflection of the Mayo footballers, but none worn as a badge of honour, for the one they crave most of all eludes them again: champions.
Should Mayo have gambled and kept Andy Moran on?

If that appears harsh, it’s not.

You think Mayo want pats on the back at this stage? For everything that they brought to the table in yesterday’s absorbing All-Ireland final, did they get what they wanted from it?

Ultimately, elite level sport is about performance and achievement. Mayo managed only one of those yesterday.

At the weekend, the subject of quality was addressed in this section of the paper. On that basis, one must ask was Andy Moran injured, that he was removed from the forward line just after the hour mark? It was reported that he was suffering from a slight hamstring issue, but only a minute or two before his replacement, he was sidestepping Dublin defenders and getting a shot off (which he sent wide, by the way). Moran hadn’t scored in the second half, but he was central to Lee Keegan’s goal and to Jason Doherty’s goal chance, saved by Cluxton, and he was still the most capable point of attack, the one who could make that killer pass again.

When the margins were as tight as yesterday, it was a big call by Mayo to take him off. Conor Loftus looked sharp when he was introduced, and I am not sure he wasn’t fouled late on when Dublin dispossessed him, but I’d have been very slow to remove Moran from that full-forward line.

In looking for clever tactical nuances in any tight battle, sometimes we are all guilty of overlooking the obvious, and the strength of Dublin’s replacement was advertised as a key factor beforehand for a very good reason.

If starting Eoghan O’Gara didn’t work, it scarcely represents a reckless gamble when you can trot out Connolly and McManamon at the start of the second half.

Have no doubt, Dublin were on the ropes for most of the first half, and a share of the second period too. They were fortunate to go in at the break only a point down. It’s an oft-used analogy that they were like a boxer on the ropes, but it’s absolutely appropriate in this context, because they were faced by an opponent which could not deliver the knockout blow.

One of the key influencers of the game yesterday was Dean Rock. He may not get man of the match, but four points from play in an All- Ireland final (and in the second half when the fat was in the fire) is the sort of impact that wins All-Ireland finals.

The frustration for Stephen Rochford and his management team is that they will feel they got most of their match-ups spot on. Aidan O’Shea did very well in the middle third, but the man marking him, James McCarthy, was the man of the match. Chris Barrett’s rate of turnovers was extraordinary but Paul Mannion got three second-half points.

That is the mark of a serious group of high achievers. The players will acknowledge this was a game that could have got away from them in the last quarter but their poise in those frantic last 15 minutes was ridiculously good.

We all feel a sense of devastation for Mayo but nobody should do so at the expense of applauding the champions’ amazing self-confidence which helped them ground out the first three in a row since 1986.

It was a good day for football. And contributing in no small way to that was a true star in the making in Kerry minor David Clifford. What was stunning yesterday was his ability to deliver that sort of display when he knew the whole country was tuned in to watch him.

He will be in training with Kerry over the winter. He has to be.

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