Sporting Review of the Year 2017
Dublin delight and more Mayo misery was the story of the 2017 race for Sam, as the all-conquering Dubs made it three All Irelands in a row.
Dean Rock held his nerve to nail the decisive injury-time free and captain Stephen Cluxton lifted the Sam Maguire, as the Dubs edged it 1-17 to 1-16 to leave the media to wax lyrical over this Dublin side’s place in the annals of the game.
To the victors the spoils, while for Mayo yet another hard-luck tale and more talk of ‘the curse’. The media are fast running out of adjectives to describe Mayo heartbreak. Will they ever win Sam again?
One had to feel for them, their supporters and most of all veteran forward Andy Moran, who had an immense year.
They came mightily close and left Croke Park with thoughts of what might have been. They dominated long periods of the final and did well to limit a Dublin attack that had been irresistible all year, but in the final reckoning Mayo just weren’t clinical enough.
Cillian O’Connor had a chance to edge Mayo ahead on the stroke of full-time, only for his shot to come back off the upright, and just when it seemed destined for a replay, Rock had the final word.
Can anyone prevent the Dubs from making it four-in-a-row in 2018? It’s hard to see where the challenge is going to come from on the evidence of this year.
Indeed, the four quarter-finals were as one-sided as seen for many a year – Kerry beat Galway by eight points, Tyrone saw off Armagh by 18, Dublin were ten points too good for Monaghan, while Mayo needed a replay to overcome Roscommon, and duly hammered them by 22 points. All very one-sided stuff, and not good for the competition as a whole.
While Dublin had little trouble seeing off Tyrone in their semi-final, Mayo’s semi-final with Kerry reached epic proportions.
Two games were needed to find a winner with the major talking point being the deployment of Aidan O’Shea by Mayo boss Stephen Rochford to nullify the influence of Kieran Donaghy.
Tactical genius or a negative move which robbed Mayo of one of their main attacking threats. Either way, it divided opinion and provided one of the talking points of the year.
The sides couldn’t be separated in a tight nervy first game, which ended 2-14 to 2-14 thanks to Paddy Durcan kicking a last-gasp score to keep Mayo’s Sam dreams alive, but Mayo stole a march in the first half of the replay to lead by five at the interval, and that advantage increased when Moran netted a second major in the 37th minute.
It was a performance of maturity from Mayo to see the game out, 2-16 to 0-17, but did those replays against Roscommon and Kerry take their toll on Rochford’s charges?
It seemed so when the excellent Con O’Callaghan had the ball in the back of the Mayo net early on in the final. The worst possible start to the game for Mayo, but it didn’t knock a beat out of them.
Despite O’Callaghan’s dream start, it was Mayo who led by a point at the break, but Jim Gavin knew his side had been outplayed. Lee Keegan’s 54th minute goal came just when Mayo needed it and put them up by two points, but they couldn’t pull away and the sides were level going into six added minutes of injury-time. Up step Rock to break Mayo hearts.
While it was Dublin’s first three-in-a-row since the 1902s, it was the latest heartbreaking defeat for Mayo who have now lost 11 finals since they last won the Championship in 1951.
In Connacht, it was Roscommon’s year. Galway knocked out Mayo in the semi-finals, but were no match for the Rossies in the final, who prevailed by 2-15 to 0-12 to win Connacht for the first time since 2010.
In Leinster, Dublin hammered Kildare by 2-23 to 1-17 to make it seven provincial titles in a row, while in Ulster Tyrone had too much for Down (2-17 to 0-15) to make it back-to-back titles.
In Munster, Kerry beat Cork 1-23 to 0-15 in the final, as the Kingdom made it five Munster titles in a row, and further consolation for Kerry came in ending Dublin’s extraordinary 36-match unbeaten run in league and championship, when they edged a thriller, 0-20 to 1-16, to win the Division 1 League final against the Dubs.
Galway took the honours in Division 2, edging out Kildare by two points in the final, while Tipperary hammered Louth 3-19 to 0-19 in the Division 3 final. Division 4, Westmeath were 13 points too good for Wexford.