Heroic Clarke proves Mayo’s saving grace

Mayo were 10 points to the good yesterday early in the second half, leading by 0-17 to 0-7, and yet they were reduced to stumbling over the finish line to win by three.

And had David Clarke not produced an outstanding save in a one-on-one with Bernard Brogan on 61 minutes, it is probably Dublin who would be in the All-Ireland final against Donegal.

Normally it is mistakes inside the whitewash that costs teams in big games, however yesterday the Dublin management team made some incredible errors of judgment.

They finished the game with a more balanced, more mobile and more potent team than the one they started with.

Firstly, Michael Darragh MacAuley who is an All Star midfielder, should have been selected in that position ahead of either Denis Bastick or Eamon Fennell, with Eoghan O’Gara inside forward beside Bernard Brogan.

And how a clearly unfit Alan Brogan was brought on at half-time is beyond comprehension.

The man was obviously not right and how he saw action ahead of O’Gara or Kevin McMananon, who shot 1-3 when he last started a game, was a key factor in Dublin’s defeat.

From the first ball that Brogan fumbled and could not chase after Keith Higgins, it was clear that Pat Gilroy had burned up two substitute slips to no avail.

When Dublin finally got their team set up as it should have been, they hit Mayo for eight points in a row and cut a 10-point deficit, to two. They had all the momentum at that juncture and it was young Cillian O’Connor with his seventh point that finally stopped the rot.

Credit to Mayo though for hitting three mini-scoring patches that won the game for them. They hit 0-5 on the trot early in the first half, 0-4 just before half-time, and a purple patch at the start of the second half, when they scored five points without reply, is what won them the match.

Dublin were totally disjointed at that juncture and it was only when they repositioned MacAuley to midfield, brought on O’Gara and McManamon and put Diarmuid Connolly to wing-forward that they inched their way back into the game. However, they had left their gallop too late.

Mayo’s substitutes, and their fresh legs, in the shape of Seamus O’Shea who hit a great point and Jason Gibbons who won a vital kick-out helped steady the ship. Had they been beaten yesterday after leading by 10 points would have been an exceptionally cruel blow to their psyche.

Now this group of players have the task of making sure that they do not lose another All-Ireland final after their heart wrenching defeats in 1989, 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2006. One consolation is at least they won’t be facing Kerry in three weeks’ time.

Having been at last weekend’s victory by Donegal over Cork and yesterday, it is impossible not to predict a win for the Ulster champions on September 23.

They just look a more complete team than Mayo at present. However that kind of talk is just what James Horan will want to hear. He has done a superb job in the past two years. Last year they defeated the reigning All-Ireland champions (Cork) and now they have replicated that feat.

They are a very committed and organised bunch of players and the way they have responded to the loss of their captain Andy Moran is admirable. They fully deserved their win yesterday and only a sadist would begrudge them an All-Ireland win after 61 years, however they will have to find another gear if they are going to beat Donegal in the final.

The fade out in when they let Dublin hit 0-8 without reply and inability to score for 22 minutes was very worrying and if they allow something similar to happen in the final, they will be beaten.

Nevertheless there is nothing definite in sport and that is why we love it.

I expect Donegal to win the final, but we have all been wrong before.

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