Mighty Dubs Make History With Three-In-A-Row The Big Picture

Mighty Dubs Make History With Three-In-A-Row

It was a truly epic encounter. Neither side asked or received any quarter and the outcome was in doubt until the final whistle was blown. In the end it was Dublin who emerged victorious as they claimed their third All-Ireland SFC title in succession and deservedly took their place among the game’s greats.

It was one of the most anticipated All-Ireland SFC finals in years – and it didn’t disappoint. It was an afternoon of high drama in Croke Park as Jim Gavin’s Dublin edged past a valiant Mayo by 1-17 to 1-16, with the winning score coming deep into injury time. It was a game won by the finest of margins. There was little or nothing to choose between the two sides. Mayo had their chance to win it, but couldn’t take it. Moments later Dublin took theirs as Dean Rock coolly converted a free from 45 metres to seal a memorable victory.

Dublin have won four of the last five All-Ireland titles, with a semi-final loss to Donegal back in 2014 the only time they have tasted defeat in the championship since 2012. It’s a remarkable run, particularly in the modern era where the demands placed on players are greater than ever before. This is a truly great group of players.


The current squad have matched the achievements of Dublin sides of the late 1890s and early 1920s. Other counties have also achieved three-in-a-row. Wexford won four championships in succession between 1915-18, a feat matched by Kerry between 1929-32. Galway won three-in-a-row in the early 1960s, while Kerry managed it twice (including a four-in-a-row) between 1978-86. That Kerry side is undoubtedly the greatest in the history of the game, but Dublin are now breathing the same rarified air of those football gods. They have deservedly taken their place in the pantheon. Skipper Stephen Cluxton made history of his own on Sunday too, becoming the first person ever to captain his county to four All-Ireland titles.

Heartbreak for Mayo

For Mayo, though, it’s a different story. It was their ninth final defeat since 1989, their fourth in six years. They last won the championship in 1951. That 66-year wait that everyone was talking about in the run-up to last Sunday’s game is set to be extended by another 12 months at least. They were so close but, as happened last year in both the final and replay, they were unable to grasp victory when the opportunity came their way. Cillian O’Connor’s injury time free from out wide came back off the upright and the chance was gone. It was a similar story last year. You have to feel for them.


Stephen Rochford’s side pushed Dublin all the way and, in any other era, would surely have added a few more championships to their tally over the past few years. They were superb once again on Sunday. Indeed, it is testament to just how good they were in spells that even a side as good as Dublin struggled to live with them. But live with them they did which gave Rock the chance to apply the coup-de-grace in the dying moments. It was a bitter pill for the westerners, but they must take their medicine and move on. It won’t be easy after Sunday’s game, but that is what they must do. Such is the nature of sport.

They are a team full of stars – the contribution of Andy Moran, Aidan O’Shea, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and many others in the red and green to this year’s championship has been immense. They have helped to make it one to savour. They will be back. Hopefully, it will be a short winter for them.

High drama

But the truth is that Mayo will be wondering how they let this one get away. They recovered superbly from Con O’Callaghan’s second minute solo goal – the coolness of the finish indicates that we could be looking at the emergence of a major star – and were the better side for most of the first half. They led 0-09 to 1-05 at the break. They should have been further ahead, but Dublin stayed calm and Rock was able to reduce the arrears to just one with the last kick of the half. It was a soft free – on such things do big games turn.


Dublin were out of the blocks quickest upon the restart and were level within 19 seconds courtesy of Paul Mannion. They appeared to have weathered the Mayo storm, but what followed on 45 minutes was possibly the turning point for the entire contest. First John Small gets a second yellow for a heavy challenge on Colm Boyle, then Donal Vaughan rather unnecessarily comes barrelling in to exact revenge and earns himself a straight red. Instead of a free in from 30 yards and an almost certain point for the westerners, the result was a hop ball which Dublin cleared.

It was a tough, very physical encounter, with probably a little too much stuff going on off the ball. Referee Joe McQuillan was brandishing yellow cards from early on which made it inevitable that we wouldn’t have a full headcount at the final whistle.


It looked like Dublin would start to pull away after the two red cards. Brian Fenton finished off a good move to put them two clear with 20 minutes remaining. But Mayo refused to lie down and the superb Andy Moran set up Lee Keegan who blasted home from ten yards. The pendulum appeared to be swinging in the westerner’s favour and they led by two with just six minutes to go.

But, as is the case with all great teams, Dublin didn’t panic. Mannion and James McCarthy scored in quick succession to level matters. Rock and O’Connor exchanged scores before the game moved into six minutes of injury time. O’Connor had a chance to win it, but it was not to be and Rock showed nerves of steel to convert from 45 metres as the clock showed 75.45. It was a suitably dramatic ending to a game that had everything.


Emotion

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford could barely hide the emotion afterwards as he exhorted his team and their supporters to steel themselves for another tilt at the title next year. In a ‘once more into the breach’-type plea, he said: "The dream has not died, just postponed. We'll go home tomorrow with dignity and pride, and we will lick our wounds. But we will rise again. Because this year, like so many years that have gone before, has shown that Mayo may be temporarily down, but we are never, ever out." Sport can be cruel sometimes - there was little or nothing between the two sides on Sunday and yet Dublin have written their names into the history books, while Mayo have nothing.

The Dublin camp, meanwhile, have maintained throughout the championship that the notion of three-in-a-row was never even discussed. It is a measure of the focus that this group possess, something that allowed them to dig deep enough to find the win on Sunday when the game seemed to be getting away from them. Philly McMahon did break ranks somewhat in his comments after the final whistle, saying: "The three-in-a-row wasn't on our agenda but, Jesus, we can talk about it now!"

They certainly can!


Images: INPHO

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