Some years ago, Páidí Ó Sé told the GAA world that ‘a grain of rice can tip the scales’. He must have heard it from a Chinese Emperor on a visit to Ceann Trá!
Essentially, small moments decide big games. While we go though 75 minutes or so worth of action, we can usually pinpoint one or two turning points that ultimately decide the outcome of a game.
Dublin’s two quick-fire second-half goals are obvious game-changers and not what you could consider ‘small moments’ but look a little closer and you’ll find details of what some of these Dublin and Mayo players will remember when they reflect on Saturday’s semi-final replay.
Every player will have moments in their head that will stick with them long after the final whistle, some of these might not be commonly talked about or covered when we see the highlights.
Take the sequence for Dublin’s first goal that changed the whole dynamic of the game. A Mayo kick-out and their goalkeeper Rob Hennelly was tying the lace on his boot, with the crowd getting impatient and a gentle reminder from the referee to hurry up. Hennelly rushed to get the ball on his kicking tee - at this stage he had only replaced one of his gloves - and he drove the kickout down on his midfield.
Dublin won the breaking ball and quickly worked an overlap which freed Brian Fenton into a goal-scoring position; by now Hennelly had the two gloves back on but had the strap on one hanging open as he scrambled to cut down Fenton’s angle. Hennelly did enough to force the Dublin midfielder to pull his effort across the goal but fortunately for Dublin, Bernard Brogan was on hand to side-foot home. Draw game and huge oxygen boost for Dublin.
When Hennelly looks back on that sequence he won’t think of how he gave Fenton little target to hit - he will go back to that start and realise he should have taken the time needed to get himself reset correctly before the kickout, even if it meant giving away a hop ball for time delay.
That small moment started a passage of play that changed the direction of the game.
A player who will have a more positive reflection on his moments will be James McCarthy. The Dublin wing-back had yet to reach the performance heights in this year’s championship that he had previously set, but he showed huge confidence and leadership to kick a crucial second-half point when Mayo were four points up. However, it was his opening 10 minutes that needs to be appreciated. Too many times in the drawn game, the Ballymun man took possession in a standing position or was happy to hand-pass it off to a team-mate, but from the throw-in on Saturday he took the game to Mayo and provided two scoring assists out of Dublin’s opening three points. These assists came after driving runs which put his marker Kevin McLaughlin on the back foot.
From a team perspective, Dublin will reflect on how contrasting Saturday’s final 15 minutes were to the drawn game. A week ago Dublin couldn’t hold possession, retain any defensive shape or give their defence an out ball, whereas on Saturday when they opened up a lead, they were happy to play keep-ball, even if some fans would rather they didn’t hold possession for so long in their own half particularly when the passes are going backwards and across their own goalmouth.
In the 60th minute, Dublin calmly controlled possession for almost two full minutes inside their own half before finally working an opening for Philly McMahon to find himself in space to increase their lead. Another point clear but it meant more than that - and Mayo’s body language from that moment franked it.
This wasn’t the same team they were competing with in the closing stages last week - Dublin were showing the collective mental strength that some had questioned and will take great satisfaction from that last quarter display.
Mayo now begin their own reflection to identify how they can learn from these moments. It’s a process this group of players are used to but it will be their first post-season with this management team. Both will need to be open and honest and spend the time on the finer details, for as we know, that’s what it really comes down to.
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