It would be fair to say most players’ senses are preoccupied with what’s in front of them, particularly on All-Ireland final day.
For example, Seamus O’Shea didn’t know James McCarthy was black carded until he was informed after the game.
O’Shea himself had suffered a similar fate in last year’s drawn replay but he was too concerned with the action to notice.
But if the September 18 match taught Dublin and Mayo’s footballers anything it was to keep eyes peeled and ears pricked. It was as much the excited reaction of the Mayo crowd to the announcement over the PA system than the confirmation itself that alerted their team to the fact there would be at least seven minutes of additional time remaining.
For a group of supporters criticised for being quiet in closing stages of finals, they did their job on this occasion. They had looked at the scoreboard as would have the players, not often the done thing. The three-point margin suddenly became a lot less.
“Maybe the seven minutes thing had an impact at the back of our minds,” says Keith Higgins. “When you see seven minutes going up, you are probably thinking there is plenty of time to claw back that three points. Even Donie’s (Vaughan) point, another day when you are 21 yards out he might have taken a chance and gone, put the head down and go for goal from that situation. He tapped the ball over the bar so it was probably in the back of boys’ minds that there was plenty of time left here to get a couple of points.”
Higgins afforded himself a first look at the scoreline well into the first half when it read Dublin had not yet managed to score a point. “What was I thinking? I remember looking up at the scoreboard, they had two goals and no points. I was thinking that is a bit strange alright. I thought we defended very well at that stage.
“Obviously, you have to break it down and look at the goal chances that they got. They came off our boys, but you have to wonder how they got them chances. They did create the goal chances and they created another one where David (Clarke) had to make a good save from it.
“The goals were unfortunate but they did create them chances. You have to be critical of yourself in them situations about how they did it. It is kind of strange when they have no points on the board after 30 minutes and five minutes later you go in at half-time five points down. It was a strange one but it was that type of game when you’re thinking anything can happen.”
Mayo-Dublin games seem to take on these almost freakish aspects. In 2013, there was that energy-sapping first half where the ball never seemed to be out of play. In the drawn game last year, it was Diarmuid Connolly being dismissed for an altercation Lee Keegan admitted he initiated. The talk after the replay was dominated by Rob Hennelly adjusting his gloves.
The rain in last Sunday week’s game on top of the noise created by the crowd meant communication between players was more difficult than usual and contributed to turnovers. Mayo were guilty of plenty, especially in the first half, as Higgins accepts.
“Especially when you are playing a team like Dublin who have such an atmosphere around them and there’s such noise there. Even when you are in the parade and you are talking to a fella who is two yards away you can’t hear what he’s saying. It’s always mentioned that you can’t hear a fella that’s a few yards away so how do you come up with a way of communicating? If someone is behind you and you have the ball and you are looking up, you can’t really see a fella say: ‘There’s someone behind you.’ It is a hard thing to figure out, I don’t know how you’d work around it.”
It may seem just as unusual if not bizarre that two of Mayo’s top men against Dublin were final rookies — Patrick Durcan and Brendan Harrison.
“Paddy and Harry in the backline anyway, they were probably two of our best performers and it was their first All-Ireland final so sometimes a bit can be made out of experience and sometimes you just need a fella in there who has no fear to just go and deliver a performance like that,” said Higgins.
“So you just hope the next day they’ll do the exact same thing.
“Even the likes of Diarmuid (O’Connor) and Stephen Coen, you are hoping that the U21 experience might stand to them as well but it’s a completely different kettle of fish. Sometimes you just don’t know how players are going to react on All-Ireland final day. You can plan and prepare all you want but you just hope for the best sometimes as well.”
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