Mike Quirke: In a game of inches, Dublin’s bench made the difference

Dublin will be rightly hailed as one of the truly great sides and are in the middle of writing a very special history for themselves, writes Mike Quirke.

Mike Quirke: In a game of inches, Dublin’s bench made the difference

Murphy’s law is an age old adage, typically understood as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong…

I’m not exactly sure who this Murphy was, but it’s unlikely he ever suffered as much ill fortune as these boys from the west. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong… Mayo’s law.

Obviously, since the final whistle, the over-riding narrative has been one of total sympathy for the gallant losers yet again. What more do Mayo have to do to get over the line? How much more can they give to the cause without getting the reward their perseverance and character deserves?

And if you ever needed confirmation that sport has absolutely no conscience and just ain’t fair then Mayo are exhibit A.

Stephen Rochford and his management team are taking a lot of heat for their decision to parachute Rob Hennelly in over David Clarke on Saturday.

From the outside, it seemed a strange call. But there must have been some logical reasoning behind it.

He is definitely the guy with the superior range to his restarts but it didn’t translate into Mayo dominating possession from their own kick-outs early on as they would have hoped.

Perhaps management felt that Dublin had Clarke cracked after his poor distribution from the tee in the final minutes of the drawn final and that Hennelly between the sticks would be a weapon that the Dubs simply hadn’t planned for, someone who could launch it over the top of their press at kick-out time.

Whatever the thinking, it was a move that backfired badly on Rochford and the Mayo management.

And despite his shakiness at kick-out time, it was his dropped catch, leading to his black card and Diarmuid Connolly’s peach of a penalty that really defined his nightmare day.

That momentary lack of concentration to execute the most routine of catches will haunt him for some time.

It was hard not to feel for the guy.

That was the third goal Mayo conceded to Dublin over the course nearly 150 minutes of frantic football and none of them came from anything resembling good Dublin play. Two own goals and a massive goalkeeping error were pivotal moments on the road to the Dubs becoming back-to-back champions. Mayo’s law…

For years, the ‘Kerry media mafia’ of former players and coaches got a lot of flak for the perception of driving a certain agenda before big games involving our county. The insinuation being that there was some deliberate and co-ordinated strategy to put pressure on a referee or shine a spotlight on some individual player or tactic to increase the pressure on that aspect of the game.

Talk about seeing something that wasn’t there.

It was much the same thing last week, as one former Dub after another were wheeled out and dutifully name-checked Lee Keegan and how his borderline treatment of Diarmuid Connolly would go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.

Did that extracurricular heat contribute to referee Maurice Deegan’s decision to issue a first half black card to Keegan when the dubious opportunity presented itself. Possibly. But the perception of all these former Dubs popping over to Alan Brogan’s house for a cup of tea and a meeting, and deciding there and then to go after the Mayo half back in a concerted way is the definition of paranoia.

It was the obvious talking point before the replay and the Dubs were calling a spade a spade.

Now is not the time, and I’m conscious I’m going over old ground here, but the black card rule needs urgent modification. Not even the referees can identify with any great certainty what is a black card.

On Saturday, Maurice Deegan’s interpretation was hit and miss at best, and he’s supposed to be one of the top officials in the country. Never mind the trickle-down effect to the club game and how the rule is evaluated so poorly by most referees down at grassroots level. Every foul has turned into Russian roulette, nobody knows what colour will emerge from the notebook. Bullet or blank, close your eyes and hope for the best.

Ultimately, one of the more telling factors that decided this game, was the impact of the respective benches. For Dublin, Cormac Costelloe was the obvious hero, doing his best Kevin McManamon impression in the last quarter with three crucial scores. Bernard Brogan too made a scoring impression but it was Michael Darragh Macauley who really inflicted mortal wounds on a flagging Mayo running out of gas.

Conversely, Mayo had nothing like that impact from the middle of the Hogan Stand to help them close out the deal. Their most offensive substitutions were Barry Moran and Alan Dillon and neither were likely to bring the cutting edge necessary to eke out a narrow win.

Over nearly 150 minutes of football played over two epic battles, only one point separated these two brilliant sides. From play it worked out at 20 points to 18 in Dublin’s favour, but crucially, the champions outscored Mayo 6-1 in terms of scoring off the bench.

This Dublin team will be rightly hailed as one of the truly great sides and are in the middle of writing a very special history for themselves that shows no signs of waning. While Mayo will be praised for their display of resilience and character, don’t forget these Dubs have played this entire championship without last year’s footballer of the year Jack McCaffrey and All Star full-back Rory O’Carroll. They also went into the Leinster final and All-Ireland quarter-final without the services of injured All Star half-back James McCarthy. That’s three of the highest calibre defenders in the country and they didn’t miss a beat. The next man up took his chance and did the job.

They’ve now won four of the last six All-Ireland titles and with the return of McCaffrey and (possibly) O’Carroll, coupled with the progression of the likes of Paul Mannion and Cormac Costelloe in 2017, this Dublin set up will start next season as clear favourites to win their third title on the bounce.

For Mayo, they can do little but lick their wounds and feel sorry for themselves for a while. It will be of little consolation, but they’ll know just how close they were. And they’ll keep at it, and be back banging on the door again next season. You’d think eventually, some day, it just has to open for them.

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