Dublin 1-16 - Mayo 0-07: The glimmer of light for Mayo is that they have been here before. The bad news for them is they still find themselves here: a sad and distant second to Dublin in spring.
An 11th straight unsuccessful attempt to beat Dublin in five seasons and a sixth in the league, this will be filed above the 0-10 to 2-18 defeat suffered under Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes in Castlebar two years ago.
The 2013 league loss, when Bernard Brogan ran riot, reads like a moral victory compared to what was offered up on Saturday evening.
Dublin were good — real good — but Mayo were as abysmal as they were in the first half of the win away to Kerry last month when the home side should have gutted them by half-time.
Here, Dublin could have held a double-digit interval lead if Eoghan O’Gara wasn’t so careless on two occasions and Michael Darragh Macauley not touched the ball on the ground in sending it to the net.
This had been billed as an opportunity for Mayo to level a psychological blow if nothing else against Dublin before the clocks go forward later this month and championship thoughts grow in intensity.
They commenced Saturday’s game with 10 of the team that started last October’s All-Ireland final replay and their All-Star goalkeeper; Dublin began with just seven.
But Saturday was one day when the galling extent of their statistics couldn’t be ignored.
Mayo didn’t register their first point from play until the 39th minute. None of their starting forwards or replacements scored from play.
Indeed, Dublin’s back-line outscored them four to none, a brace coming from both Philly McMahon and Eric Lowndes. In total, they amassed 13 wides. For a team that prides itself on consistency, Mayo’s was a fraudulent display and it was no surprise that Stephen Rochford was asked if yet another failure to turn over Dublin might have a lasting effect on his team.
“I don’t think so,” he responded, trying not to grit his teeth. “The reality is that we’re a better team than we showed there. A week is a long time in football. We didn’t feel that we were quite as good as maybe what we made ourselves look like last week (v Roscommon). We’re certainly not as bad as we made ourselves look this week. So, we know that we will improve over the next number of weeks. And whether we play Dublin or not later in the summer, that will be something that we’ll address when and if we get to that point.”
The possible mitigating circumstances for Mayo are their camp continues to be divided between Castlebar and the capital at this time of year. Like campaigns under James Horan, they usually have the right men on the field but in the wrong positions, Lee Keegan, who was corner-back for a lot of last spring being a case in point at full-back on Saturday. Square pegs in round holes won’t work against a team like Dublin.
But little could excuse the meekness of this effort in front of a 34,758 crowd. Dublin goaled in the eighth minute when, from a kick-out precipitated by a poor O’Gara wide, Niall Scully intercepted and the ball was exchanged quickly to an unmarked Conor McHugh to palm the ball into an open net.
O’Gara blazed so far off target in the 18th minute the ball went out over the sideline but Dublin, even going 15 minutes without a score, remained in control as Stephen Cluxton kept out two shots in the space of three minutes from Andy Moran and Kevin McLoughlin and his defence remained otherwise resolute.
Dublin led 1-5 to 0-2 at half-time and kicked seven more points in the opening 10 minutes of the second half to Mayo’s three. Clarke made a hat-trick of saves from substitute Paddy Andrews, the initial one from the penalty spot, to avoid more Mayo embarrassment in the 50th minute after Donal Vaughan had upended Rock as he prepared to strike for goal.
But by that stage Mayo had scored their last point and, worryingly for Rochford, visibly given up.
The niggles between the teams in the first half were replaced thereafter by some frustrated antagonism by Mayo. Playing on scraps, they looked for scraps as if to take something away with them.
Jim Gavin was reading as much into the result as his opposite number: very little.
“I wouldn’t be getting carried away. It’s the first weekend in March and we’ve three months to go to championship.
“We’ve played three good teams. Cavan was a tough game for us. We were only back and they’re learning as well in Division 1. We had a eally tough game against Tyrone, a really tough game against Donegal.
“We’re building all the time and we’ve a cracking game in two weeks time [v Kerry], Roscommon, then Monaghan so we are building towards our opening round against Carlow or Wexford in the Leinster Championship and that’s what our focus is on.”
What Gavin called a “workmanlike” win others would define as a comprehensive victory. But then Gavin isn’t going to waste his superlatives in March.
Rochford might also reserve his expletives for a more appropriate time but he could be forgiven if a few were spilled after this wretched performance.
Scorers for Dublin:
D Rock (0-8, 0-6 frees); C McHugh (1-3); E Lowndes, P McMahon (0-2 each); P Flynn (0-1).
Scorers for Mayo:
C O’Connor (45s), E Regan (frees) (0-2 each); S Coen, T Parsons, C Boyle (0-1 each).
S Cluxton (c); M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, D Byrne; D Daly, J Small, E Lowndes; B Fenton, MD Macauley; S.B. Carthy, C Kilkenny, N Scully; D Rock, E. O’Gara, C McHugh.
Subs for Dublin:
P Andrews for E O’Gara (46); P Flynn for SB Carthy (51); K McManamon for C McHugh (55); C Reddin for D Byrne (66); E Ó Conghaile for B Fenton (70); C Mullally for J Small (70+2).
D Clarke; P Durcan, L Keegan, K Higgins; S Coen, C Boyle, D Vaughan; T Parsons, J Gibbons; D O’Connor, K McLoughlin, F Boland; E Regan, C O’Connor, A Moran.
C Loftus for E Regan (blood, 22-27); B Harrison for J Gibbons (h-t); S Nally for D. Vaughan (black, 51); C O’Shea for A Moran (54); C Loftus for D O’Connor (63); D Kirby for F Boland (66).
D Coldrick (Meath).
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