In the last 30-odd years, four All-Ireland senior football finals have gone to a replay — the deciders of 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2016.
This year’s edition is the fifth.
As fans and neutrals puzzle their way through the post-mortems, what can previous drawn finals tell us about Sunday — and, more importantly, the replay?
One of the first questions asked after a drawn final is the most obvious: who has the momentum for the next day out? Is it the team which came from behind likely to finish the job, or is it another chance for the side which led late on to close the deal?
In 1988, Meath came from behind to level matters with Cork when Brian Stafford pointed a controversial late free awarded by referee Tommy Sugrue. The Leinster side went on to win the replay, having gotten off the hook in that first game.
Eight years later, Meath were involved again, and the narrative was pretty similar: in 1996, they needed another leveller very late in the proceedings, with Colm Coyle’s long speculative shot bouncing over the bar to deny Mayo victory. Again, they went on to win the replay.
Is it significant, incidentally, on both occasions Meath won by a point, in 1988 and 1996? Is that the scoreboard value of the lessons learned in a drawn All-Ireland final?
In 2000, Kerry and Galway played out a draw in the final, and the Connacht side were coming strong at the end. However, they missed at least three late chances, any of which might have earned them the title. Kerry were more efficient in the replay and duly won with four points to spare.
Perhaps the 2016 final is the most relevant to this season, given it involved Dublin. Their opponents, Mayo, were the ones who scored two injury-time points to force a second day out, but Dublin closed the deal in the replay. Cormac Costello was the Dublin sub whose three late points got his side just over the finishing line — again, as in 1988 and 1996, by just one point.
In terms of player experience, there aren’t too many mismatches in these draws and replays — it’s unusual for a team to come from absolutely nowhere to an All-Ireland final, after all, without serving an apprenticeship.
For instance, Cork and Meath were pretty evenly matched in terms of experience in 1988, having met in the previous year’s All-Ireland final as well: did Meath have a minuscule edge, having also been provincial champions in 1986?
The Royal County surely had the edge in 1996, with survivors from the 1991 saga with Dublin — Colm Coyle, who hit the leveller in the first game, had played in an All-Ireland final as far back as 1988. Mayo, their opponents, had had disappointing semi-final defeats in 1992 and 1993: they lacked the same level of experience of the biggest day of the year
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Kerry and Galway were also closely matched in 2000. Kerry had won the 1997 All-Ireland, and Galway collected Sam the following year, while in 2016 Mayo and Dublin were also on a par. Both Mayo and Dublin had appeared in two of the previous four finals, though Dublin had won their deciders and Mayo lost theirs to Donegal and… Dublin.
Interestingly, managers seem to benefit from All-Ireland final replays. That second day out appears to accelerate their learning curve.
In the 1988 case, both Sean Boylan (Meath) and Billy Morgan (Cork) were at the start of long management careers and would go on to win All-Irelands soon afterwards — Morgan’s side collected the next two titles, in 1989 and 1990, while Boylan was still in place for the 1996 and 1999 wins (and, of course, got his side to the 1991 decider after an epic season of draws and replays).
Similarly, Páidí Ó Sé (Kerry) would get his side to the All-Ireland final two years after his replay win of 2000, though his side lost to Armagh. John O’Mahony (Galway) didn’t even have to wait that long for a return to the September show: in 2001 his Tribesmen won the All-Ireland against Meath.
Three years ago, Dublin boss Jim Gavin had already won two of the previous three All-Irelands, but his side remain unbeaten in championship action since. Stephen Rochford was the Mayo boss in 2016, but got his side back to the decider — against Dublin — in 2017, when they lost by a point (interestingly, did Rochford put lessons from the 2016 All-Ireland final replay into effect in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final replay, when his Mayo side were too strong for Kerry?)
And, more to the point, what has Jim Gavin learned from Sunday that he can put into effect on Saturday week?