After 20 years of waiting, the Sam Maguire is rightly back with Donegal who have now firmly established themselves as the dominant force in Gaelic football.
They have won the hardest of All-Irelands. Indeed they have had to beat all the top teams bar Dublin.
Their victory, although at times nervy especially in the latter stages of the first half, was expected and well deserved. Their blueprint may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they have done what Armagh and Tyrone both achieved previously by re-writing the coaching manuals.
This success is built on ‘TEAM’ where everyone has a role and there is no room for individuals.
The first half was a tale of two quarters. Donegal came out smoking while their opponents contrived to throw away all they had worked so hard for. Donegal’s play was deliberate and they mixed their game up well, feeding their full forward line with quick and quality possession.
Indeed Mayo didn’t score for the first 15 minutes but they were extremely nervous in possession often coughing up the ball when challenged. Donegal for their part scored two tremendous goals and had it not been for a terrific David Clarke save from the irrepressible Colm McFadden, the game would have been over early on.
Donegal made the fatal mistake of believing in their own hype and had gone scoreless for 16 minutes until the imperious McFadden scored a superb free on the stroke of half-time.
Mayo never faltered and took over in midfield through Barry Moran and Aidan O’Se, upped their workrate, negated the silly mistakes of the opening quarter and attacked Donegal down the flanks.
Kevin McLoughlin displayed great leadership in Mayo’s fightback, leading the line superbly and kicking impressive scores against a difficult cross-field wind
However, in the second half, when the game was on the line Donegal reverted to type keeping the game really tight, eliminating risk and moving the ball quickly using the wide expanses of Croke Park.
They had the cushion of the two first-half goals but more importantly they had the potent strike force of McFadden and Michael Murphy who could be relied upon to score frees when most needed.
Mayo crucially missed important scores at critical times and were especially wasteful from the placed ball.
They could never open Donegal up to create the all-important goal chance that would ultimately let them back into things while giving them a sniff of the winning line.
The final certainly won’t be remembered as a classic and indeed it was extremely nervy, but it will be remembered for the day that two young coaches, from similar playing backgrounds and with two similar unfashionable teams, re-defined the game of Gaelic football where possession is king and hard work and teamwork is expected.