A NINE-POINT defeat to Kerry sounds like more of the same sad story for Mayo, but in reality yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final was far from a foregone conclusion.
At half-time Mayo were two points down, and having been behind in every one of their games so far this year at that stage, they will have been happy enough.
That they didn’t manage to overturn that deficit and qualify for another All-Ireland final was in large part down to two men – Colm Cooper, and Paul Galvin.
Many people predicted that this would be Cooper’s year – that as captain he would be inspired by the role and would give us a year of sustained excellence that would finally win him the Player of the Year award, which he has bizarrely never won.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that – he was very quiet against Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final, and had been treading water slightly before that too. But against Mayo he was magnificent. The goal was brilliant, coming as it did just after Cillian O’Connor’s super goal at the other end, but in every other facet of the game he was really hitting his straps, which is obviously a big worry for whoever is coming next for Kerry.
Pat Spillane I believe suggested last night that Cooper might be the best footballer he’s ever seen. If this means Pat thinks Cooper is a better footballer than Pat Spillane, then this is a massive statement to make, and one I’m sure Pat will not have made lightly.
Pat’s familiarity with Pat Spillane’s game is second to none, as is his admiration for it, so this is really huge.
Liam Hayes has been doing our analysis every Monday night on Off the Ball, and copping lots of flak for his views as always, but he refuses to call Cooper by his omnipresent nickname and I think I might start abiding by that rule as well. Liam thinks he’s beyond that now! And I’m inclined to agree with him. For the best footballer in Ireland, ‘the Gooch’ seems a little short of regal status.
In reality Mayo did as well as they could – they closed down three of Kerry’s four starting galacticos (Kieran Donaghy, and the two O’Sullivans), but just couldn’t contain Cooper, and when he came on, Paul Galvin. It’s that depth of quality that really kills teams – if you look at Dublin and Donegal, they have two or at a push three forwards that will really hurt you on the scoreboard, and workhorses thereafter.
Mayo did as good a job as I’ve seen on 3 of the best forwards in Ireland, and still were undone at the back by Cooper and the cavalry that arrived in the shape of Paul Galvin.
Within minutes of his arrival on the pitch, we had a point from his right boot, an elbow to his face from Aidan O’Shea, and a Twitter conversation between Claire Byrne and Grainne Seoige about his tattoos. You just don’t get that with any other footballer do you?
And his studious fastening of the top button of his standard-issue Kerry team polo shirt for the post-match TV interview seemed like much of a statement than it would if it was, say, Noel O’Leary who’d done it.
When it comes to the All-Ireland final, he’ll be required there too because Dublin and Donegal will ask huge questions of this Kerry team. Both teams will have looked at the bother Andy Moran caused Marc Ó Sé and realised that this Kerry full-back line is still fallible.
Next week’s semi-final is a mouth-watering prospect, and while they’ll both respect Kerry, they’ll have areas of the field where they think they’ll hold the upper hand. I will be asked for my prediction quite a bit this week, and so here’s what I think on Monday (it’s obviously prone to change) – Donegal by two.
I’m not entirely sure if that’s my head or my heart talking – could it be that I just don’t think I could face a three-week build-up to the All-Ireland final featuring Jimmy Deenihan and Paddy Cullen telling us about how they all got along so well in the 70s and went to the Listowel Races together?
- This week Murph was – glad to hear the tradition of Micheal Ó Sé commentating on minor games and using the phrase “mhac do” or “dhearthair do” about 400 times a game is still going strong.
Ciaran Murphy is producer of Off The Ball sports show on Newstalk 106 and pitchside reporter for the station’s live GAA coverage this season.