Former Mayo manager on the qualities that are the makings of both All Ireland finalists
Picture the scene. A lone cowboy is surrounded in a bar. Heavily outnumbered, he’s told to leave before he gets badly hurt. This can only go one way.
He looks around slowly at his enemies, eyeballing each one by one. He’s edgy. Everyone’s edgy. Finally our hero turns on his heels and walks towards the door, hissed and jeered at with every step towards the saloon door.
They have shown him to be a coward. And they assume he has given up. As he reaches the door, he catches the handle and locks it shut. Now there’s no way out for anyone. This can only go one way. He turns and fights!
For some reason this scene is going around in my head this week. Can’t remember if it’s a scene from a film or a chapter from a book. Mayo on their 2017 odyssey have stared at that saloon door on multiple occasions. They almost walked out that door many times, never to return.
Mayo's Aidan O'Shea with supporters after the match ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Against Cork in their extra time win, something happened. That day in Limerick, something changed to this team of continuous improvers. As they wobbled, with every thread of their physical and mental fabric being tested, from somewhere a fuse was lit and bang! Another battle won. Another notch on the belt. Another learning. Mayo had stared down the gunslingers and now having faced everything that could be thrown at them, seemed to morph into a group so focused on themselves that they simply don’t seem to care about what’s outside that door.
I mean that in the best possible way, there is now nothing that fazes them. This group have gone through it all and still they rise. Their integrity, character and their ability have been sharpened and focused by the many different tests they’ve faced. They’re in a rhythm now that’s fluid and has flow. The unit does not care about who or what it faces. It is merciless now. While the crowd in Cork went to a different range of support and connection with the team, the bond has become unbreakable. That’s what has happened. The odyssey has created another centimetre for this team. It will help and maybe is enough to tip the scales. Let’s see.
In the other corner, Dublin – the conquerors. A fantastic team that represent both their county, and let’s face it, the GAA unbelievably well. Real role models and ambassadors of the highest order.
They are trail blazers and setting new challenges and targets all the time. Like Mayo, they evolve all the time, every session. While Jim talks of it being just another game, it will be hard to keep his players’ minds that clear. This is big for them. It’s a real step towards glory. I say this repeatedly and genuinely mean it; this Dublin team are playing football not played before. Their work ethic and resilience is brilliant.
Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny ©INPHO/James Crombie
People too easily mention resources and numbers and many other excuses as reasons for Dublin’s dominance. But that is maybe to ease their conscience and it’s simply not the full story. Unless the work ethic, unless the determination and the motivation, unless the ability, unless the culture and the management support is there, things would quickly come crumbling down. Declan Darcy mentioned that maybe Dublin deserve more credit, I agree with him. It’s amazing what they are doing as is the job Jim and his team are doing.
Sometimes dealing with victory and success can be more difficult than defeat. Dealing with many big name players who are not getting games etc. Can you imagine how quickly that could turn sour? Inter-county football is sometimes only ever 30 seconds from chaos. But yet Dublin, with everything going on, keep their heads down and work hard. Fantastic.
The weekend will be brilliant. There will be no shooting of Bambi this year and no #ThingsDiarmuidDid. It’s about two brilliant teams playing a brilliant game on the greatest occasion our games can produce. Whatever the outcome there will be serious history made. Enjoy it. The door is shut. Let battle commence!
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