People keep saying Mayo have blown their chance, but replays don't always work out that way
One point down with one minute of injury time to go in the Leinster final in 2004 and up popped our captain Chris Conway to equalise, just like Cillian O’Connor did last week. That’s what captains are for.
An odd silence fell around Croke Park when Pat McEneaney blew the full-time whistle. On the pitch I felt too embarrassed to celebrate the draw but couldn’t feel down either. We were favourites to win and we underperformed, but still we equalised late on to snatch a draw. It’s a weird feeling; this was not in the script.
The replay was fixed for the following Saturday evening and all I read and heard during the week was surely Laois wouldn’t be as bad again - Westmeath had their chance and we would win the replay.
I actually think that seeped into our dressing room. The feeling was we underperformed the first day and got the kick up the arse we needed. We would naturally be hurt and put it right in the replay. We were hurt but we thought an improved performance would automatically happen, we didn’t make it happen.
The Dublin players will hear this right up until Saturday – ‘You boys won’t be as bad again’. But how do people know that exactly? Mayo deserve a lot of credit for not allowing Dublin play. Their defending was outstanding. Dublin can’t control how Mayo players play and how that disrupts their own performance.
Just like Mayo last week, Westmeath went with man markers on our best forwards. Damien Healy picked up Beano and cleaned him out, John Keane cleaned me out and Michael Ennis cleaned Ross Munnelly out. Again, who can say the Mayo lads won’t be able to repeat their performance, or even improve on it?
There was something driving Westmeath in ‘04. Yes, Paidí was a factor but Westmeath never won a Leinster title in their history before that year. They simply had to win this one. Like Dublin in an All-Ireland context, we had won Leinster the previous year. Westmeath won all the breaking ball, they won the 50/50 challenges. That was driving them.
Sixty-five years of hurt is driving this Mayo team.
I read the Dublin panel had their post-match meal and went home after the drawn game but Mayo went ahead with their banquet. I don’t know how the Dublin players coped with going home after drawing an All-Ireland final. Imagine sitting on your couch with your mind absolutely racing after the highs of a few hours earlier. Imagine trying to sleep, your body so tired and sore but your mind not allowing you. My sympathy goes out to family members, wives and girlfriends trying to make conversation. After an experience like that the only people players want to talk to are the ones that have shared the same unique experience – teammates. They are the only ones who understand.
We were allowed out after the drawn Leinster final, which I think was a good idea. No drinking - obviously with Micko - but it was a good distraction to get out together and not dwell on the game alone at home.
I was beating myself up after the game because after a great semi-final I didn’t perform as well in the final. I battled hard against John Keane and won a few frees in the second half but I was a makeshift full-forward – he was an All Star man marker - only one winner there. I needed something stronger to take my mind off it all.
I was up to my usual vodka and Lucozade trick at the time. Micko had informers all over Laois at this stage, even some in Dublin, so I needed to be careful. A friend would buy me a vodka and Lucozade in a pint glass, and I’d separately buy myself a bottle of Lucozade. The bottle was the perfect distraction and it was very difficult to smell vodka through the Lucozade in the glass. It tasted like medicine after a few but did the trick.
I didn’t get really drunk but had enough to relax, socialise a bit and forget about the game. I made sure to check in early for a chat with Micko, who was in one of his phases of thinking I was great.
I was given a more natural roving role in the replay and played better but the game went along similar lines to the first. Laois wouldn’t be as bad in the reply? We were. But, more importantly, Westmeath were better. They got a sniff of beating us the first day, realised we weren’t as shit hot as everyone was saying and their tails were up. Instead of believing they were gone after the first game, they gained huge confidence from it. I could see it in their body language on the pitch and they were more vocal in the replay too.
This wasn’t in the script, favourites are supposed to win the replay.
Mayo will take huge confidence from the drawn game. They drew with one of the greatest ever Dublin teams after giving them a six-point head start. They have shown everyone, but most importantly themselves, Dublin are not as shit hot as everyone was saying. Like Westmeath they have man markers for Dublin’s best forwards too, which is so important.
Dublin on the other hand need to work on the mental side of things. Block out all the talk of Mayo missing their chance and go out and make a good performance happen. Mayo will most likely improve for the replay and Dublin will have to be ready for that. The forecast is good for next Saturday so that’s a big plus for them. Dublin don’t play well in the rain, their kicking game is not suited to wet conditions, especially with the way the ball skids off the grass in Croke Park.
Mayo’s odds have shortened from over 10/3 to 15/8 but I have it as a 50/50 game and I’m sure the Dublin squad will see it that way too. There will be no talk in their dressing room of favourites - favourites don’t always win the replay. I have the scars to prove it.