Case unclosed maybe, but one subplot can be put to bed.
That messing between Aidan O’Shea, Michael Darragh Macauley and one or two others as the two teams ran out for the pre-match photos? Off-the-cuff handbags. Nothing more. Certainly not some variation on Mayo’s land grab in front of the Hill 10 years ago.
“We were detailed to come out second,” said Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. “I think we went out a minute after we were supposed to. Just in case anyone is going to look into it: coincidental. Nothing went into it. These things happen so ye can all nail that on the head.”
Everything else remains open for discussion and dissection.
Mayo may have salvaged a second chance, but you wouldn’t be alone in wondering if maybe they have already squandered the best one they’ll get — and this after they shredded all declarations of Dublin’s infallibility down the stretch by claiming the last three points in injury-time.
Think about it: you find your way to four o’clock in the afternoon on All-Ireland Sunday without a single Dublin player scoring. Four of their starting forwards ended the afternoon without a flag of either colour to their credit and you — Mayo, of all people — kick only seven wides to Dublin’s dozen.
Quids in, right?
Offer it all to Stephen Rochford before throw-in yesterday and the Mayo manager could have squandered the build-up to this fractious and bizarre, but beguiling, decider in contemplating a winter of festivities and a lifetime of local celebrity.
It would have seemed a recipe for immortality.
Sooner or later the mind has to surrender to the inevitable and spit out that thought about a boat and how Mayo may have watched their’s sail away from the quay. Rochford’s main job between now and Saturday week is to keep that debilitating doubt away from the door.
“That may be a story that will run in two weeks’ time. At this moment in time we are still in the fight. So it doesn’t change our thought process. We had 12 or 13 turnovers in the first half. I don’t think that is particularly a good game. So have we got things to improve on? Yeah. And that is what we will be doing. It is as simple as that.
“We don’t feel sorry for ourselves either. We said we wouldn’t have regrets about certain things that would happen in the course of the year and the course of the game. Some days you get a decision: you don’t get a decision. You get a lucky goal... things happen. It is 70 minutes, it is not a defining moment. So for us it is half-time.”
Half-time. It’s a phrase he reached for time and again.
There’s a body of thought that replays in any sport are won and lost in those moments immediately after the final whistle of drawn games, when the conscious mind digests the stalemate. Setting the right tone asap is a manager’s first and most important contribution.
Rochford took an age to emerge from the dressing room for the official press conference. Talking to the players, he said. Among the words was a challenge: who here can put their hand up and say their performance had been their best? No-one raised their hands.
Andy Moran sought to explain why.
“Our transitional play wasn’t great from back to front. We probably weren’t offering ourselves in the full-forward line enough. It was tough conditions. You can make a lot of excuses, but we have the theory that we can compete against anyone and we came out in the second half and showed that.”
Chief recipient of Moran’s praise was his skipper.
Cillian O’Connor actually served as a decent microcosm of Mayo’s day.
Strip his performance down play by play and he wasn’t near his best but he persevered and capped a gritty second half with the equalising point deep into the 77th minute.
“The overriding emotion is: did we play well? Absolutely not,” said Moran. “Did we miss the boat? Absolutely not. We came back from certain stages when we were down. We kept fighting. Ye boys keep writing us off: we will keep coming back, you know?”
No-one ever doubted that.
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