It was during the last ten minutes of
Saturday’s replay when it dawned that there was something different about this Mayo side. That this wasn’t just a case of history repeating itself as the county booked a fourth All-Ireland final date
inside the last six years.
When it comes to Mayo, generalisations have been allowed far too much room to hold court and say as they please without being challenged. Chief among them is the line about this being the same old bunch of boys looking to scale the same summit all this time.
It’s true the latest leg of this assault was led by the same adventurers: Colm Boyle, Aidan O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin have started four All-Ireland finals. Andy Moran, David Clarke and Keith Higgins have stories stretching back to the ‘06 decider.
But the fact is that new climbers have been dotted along the path every year.
Stephen Coen was still only 16 when the county met Dublin in the decider back in 2012. Conor Loftus, Paddy Durcan, Conor O’Shea and Danny Kirby were all still in their teens, too.
All five were let loose around Croke Park in the second-half on Saturday.
Four of those got serious game time and the contribution from the bench was instant and everywhere.
Loftus and Durcan added three points to the scoreboard but the sight of Coen bouncing tacklers out of his way was almost the standout contribution.
This isn’t the narrative we’ve been fed all these years.
Mayo just aren’t supposed to have the depth to get them over the line.
But. Only seven of those who started against Kerry two days ago have started all four of their All-Ireland finals stretching back to 2012, the replay last year included.
People have moved on, their places assumed by new volunteers.
That goes for management as well.
Like Coen and Loftus, Diarmuid O’Connor already has a minor and an U21 All-Ireland medal in his care but the Ballintubber man has only taken the parade before two senior deciders. So too Tom Parsons and Brendan Harrison.
Fatigued? Dispirited? What do you think?
New blood may be taking longer than they would like to work its way around the body but that isn’t the same as saying that there haven’t been important infusions capable of improving the patient’s general health.
The fact is that Mayo’s bench has been a major factor all summer.
It was the introduction off the sideline of Aidan O’Shea, Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey, Coen and Kirby late in the day that produced the fuel for Stephen Rochford’s side to push through the gears against Sligo in their Connacht opener.
Though they lost to Galway, Mayo pushed hard towards the end to almost steal a draw and any team capable of pushing through two bouts of extra-time and two replays since then clearly has more than a bare bones starting 15 about it.
All of which has been allied with Rochford’s imaginative use of different personnel — whether it has been Lee Keegan in midfield or Aidan O’Shea at full-back. Right or wrong, that has added further strings to a bow that many suspected was fraying after so much use.
“I see myself where Mayo need me,” said Coen ahead of the Connacht semi-final loss to Galway back in June. “It’s good to be versatile for me personally so you don’t pigeon-hole yourself for a certain position.
“Stephen appreciates that players are able to adapt to certain positions.
Even if you look at games at Croke Park: you could start at number five and end up at number 12 because people just keep changing and there is match-ups.
“You need to be able to adapt and change positions and hopefully develop those positions.”
Coen’s observation has been proven right time and again this summer.
Take David Drake, whose priority back when Mayo were losing to Dublin in September of 2012 was doing his bit with Ballaghaderreen and starting a Masters in Sport and Exercise Science at UCD.
Drake is four years on the panel and is invariably asked to dial in to the pace of the game as a replacement. He’s done that to great effect five times this summer, hardly missing a beat in his short cameos as Mayo keep the show on the straight and narrow.
It’s easy dismiss these contributions when a flick through the programme notes at the weekend revealed four former All-Stars on the Kerry bench (including a former footballer of the year) while Dublin’s second wave boasted an even greater array of personal accolades.
Yet it was a sub, Paddy Durcan, who kept Mayo’s ambitions alive with an injury-time point against Kerry in the drawn semi-final.
What odds another replacement plays a seminal role come the final next month?
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