Hitting back on behalf of the imperfect wonder that is the Championship

Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton is tackledby Mayo's Aidan O'Shea during last week'sAll-Ireland SFC semi-final in Croke Park.

It would be easy to jump on the negativity bandwagon and take a pop at any one of the easy pickings in the aftermath of the drawn All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Mayo.

God knows there are more than enough people out there happy to do it.

I flew to Edinburgh Monday on a business trip, and on route the taxi man waded into the GAA, alleging they effectively fixed a draw last Sunday for the extra revenue. Needless to say he got a short response from me, and a fairly paltry tip.

Arriving home late on Tuesday night, tired and cranky, you can just imagine my response when another taxi driver went on with the same crap before we even hit the M1.

Many of the game’s prominent pundits have stated that it isn’t their job to be propaganda merchants for the GAA. In many ways they are right.

But with so many from outside the GAA circle queuing up to have a dig at us at every turn, maybe we need to cut ourselves some slack and just enjoy the imperfect wonder that is the championship.

As you are probably aware at this stage, I generally try to avoid writing about the games of the day.

Somewhat compromised by my current playing status, a cautious approach when assessing teams and players alike would shine right through and render my opinions largely irrelevant and lacking integrity.

But how can I avoid talking about Dublin-Mayo, such has been the fallout on so many fronts. In entertainment value alone, it was up there with the best of them.

Like so many defensive standoffs witnessed in the modern game, an edge of your seat finale more than compensates for the tentative events that preceded it.

Lost in the much of the over-arching criticism and negativity towards the modern game are countless moments of brilliance and bravery that continue to keep the turnstiles clicking.

So in a break from what you might have had to digest over the past number of days, I am going to highlight what, for me, made last Sunday’s games such and enjoyable spectacle, and reaffirms my undying assertion that this is the greatest competition on earth.

‘Hit the road Jack’

In the 5th minute Donal Vaughan set the tone for the match when he put Jack McCaffrey on his arse with a fair shoulder, as he attempted one of his inspirational forays up the pitch. Unfortunately Donal’s’ pride took a beating when his shoulder came out second best to McCaffrey’s velocity. Still it was a hit any man would be proud of and got the crowd pumped for the feisty events to follow.

13th-minute tribute to former Mayo minor star.

In all the controversy that followed the match, the wonderful tribute to Darragh Doherty in the 13th minute was largely overlooked. Even allowing for the fractious scenes amongst supporters that followed in the stands over the next hour, acts like this that proves that we really are a better class of sports fan. Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam.

Ciaran Kilkenny’s first-half display

With Cruyff-like positional sense, Kilkenny gets more possessions and creates more scoring opportunities than most. At times his shooting lets him down, but in the first half he used his full repertoire of skills to notch three excellent scores from play. Could end up being Dublin’s only All Star forward this year.

Diarmuid O’Connor’s second-half point.

It looked as though the Mayo forwards had come out in the second half wearing Doc Martens, so bad was their shooting in the third quarter. Diarmuid O’Connor’s sublime outside-of-the-right strike isn’t what young players in their first season should be doing in a cauldron like last Sunday. The young footballer of the year award looks like it is on its way back to the O’Connor mantelpiece.

Diarmuid Connolly’s second-half free

With Stephen Cluxton unable to hit a barn door in the second half, Diarmuid Connolly took control in the 51st minute and kicked a majestic free from the outside of his right. Had he been on the field for the final free attempt from his keeper, there could have been a very different end to the match.

The Brogan Show

In the 59th minute, Bernard weaved like a Harlem globetrotter before slotting the ball over with his weaker left. Seconds later his brother Alan, in a more orthodox fashion, angled a trademark strike of his right from underneath the Hogan Stand. At that stage Bernard Snr was sitting in the stand looking forward to seeing his two sons in another All Ireland final. Who could have disagreed with him?

Keith Higgins’ second-half point

Had Paul Flynn converted a 62nd minute chance, Dublin would have went seven up. Instead he screwed it wide. Keith Higgins immediately picked up the short quick out and a few quick interchanges later he was on the edge of the D kicking an inspirational score. Such was Mayo’s predicament at the time it didn’t get the roar it deserved.

Denis Bastick’s and Barry Moran’s high fielding

What’s rare is wonderful, and in a game strewn with short kick outs, both these subs stood out with eye catching high catches in the second half. Inspirational catches like these can be worth a half a dozen short kickouts.

Cillian ‘ice in my veins’ O’Connor

Has a team ever relied so heavily on the dead ball accuracy, as Mayo did on Cillian O’Connor last weekend?

Coolness personified, in what was a hostile atmosphere, he looked as if he was kicking frees in Ballintubber on a Friday evening.

With Cluxton guessing correctly, his 68th minute penalty strike needed to be as crisp as it was. In hindsight, should we have expected anything less?

Andy Moran’s impact sub role

The impact sub all impact subs looks up to.

Having struggled to hold down a regular starting berth since his cruciate injury a few years back, Andy Moran continues to play a pivotal role for Mayo. His 64th minute interception on Cluxton seemed to unsettle the keeper for the remainder of game. Never one to shirk responsibility, when he was presented with the opportunity to draw the match he didn’t think twice.


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