Dublin and Mayo sprinkled 34 scores around like confetti yesterday and spurned almost as many again in a Division 1 league semi-final more like a Wild West shoot-out than the trench warfare to be waged come the summer.
This was football with the shackles removed. Gone was the need to grind away for league points, to scramble for places up the slippery pole that is the table. This was football without consequences. A freebie. A weekend pass where everyone left their hair down and their top button open.
That it was the semi-final of a national competition, the second most important as we are oft told, mattered not a jot. That says everything about the low regard with which league medals are held but it was unquestionably good fun.
How relaxed was it?
Well, replays of some of those scores at half-time, and again at the final whistle, confirmed the initial instinct that this was candy-floss football, pleasant enough to the taste but full of empty calories.
Time and again, points were scored with ne’er sight of a tackle being made and the absence of intensity was common to grass and grandstands where the 24,941 supporters rarely felt the urge to clear their throats.
Space, so often at a clichéd premium in the championship, was going for a song and nothing highlighted that so much as the regular drip-drip of goal chances that punctuated the affair even if only two were taken.
Dublin engineered at least seven and Mayo three. James Horan called it a crazy kind of game and it was. When the sparring was done, both retreated to their corners with a useful work-out under their belts and nothing significant in terms of collateral damage.
Jim Gavin’s men have been the league’s alpha males since day one this year but they struggled to find their stride for most of the first quarter with errant kicking at both ends making their life something of a chore.
Mayo were by no means spectacular either but they dug out a three-point lead inside the opening seven minutes before Dublin’s day took a turn for the better with a goal to delight the scorers and madden those who conceded it.
Kilmacud’s Paul Mannion earned the score, wriggling free a tad too easily of Kevin Keane’s attentions along the right touchline before zeroing in on David Clarke’s goal and finding the net via the goalkeeper’s near post.
A second three-pointer arrived just two minutes later and, though Horan tut-tutted at its concession as well, it was far more difficult to find fault given it came via a brute of a snapshot from distance by Jason Whelan. It was one hell of an opening gambit from the Ballymun Kickhams forward on his first senior start.
The gap was seven points come the break and only then because of three late Mayo points but they did little to disturb the sensation that the contest had been settled 35 minutes before the game itself would limp to its end.
Mayo did at least keep them honest without ever looking like reeling them in. The closest they got was to within five points with half an hour to go. That still says something for their resilience and they managed it without the Andy Morans. Alan Dillons and Barry Morans of this world.
In their absence, it fell to Cillian O’Connor to assemble a scoreline, which he did courtesy of seven points from dead balls, while Michael Conroy and Aidan O’Shea chipped in five between them from play.
On the day, it wasn’t enough.
And yet, in another way, it kinda was.
Scorers for Dublin: P Mannion 1-4 (1f), B Brogan 0-5 (1f), J Whelan 1-1, D Connolly 0-3, S Cluxton (1f), D Daly, J McCaffrey 0-1 each.
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor 0-8 (7fs), M Conroy 0-3, A O’Shea 0-2, J Gibbons, C Carolan, K McLoughlin (f) 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, K O’Brien, J Cooper; J McCaffrey, G Brennan, D Daly; MD Macauley, C O’Cullivan; J Whelan, D Connolly, P Flynn; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.
Subs for Dublin: N Devereux for Daly (47), D Bastick for O’Sullivan (50), B Cullen for Flynn (54), K McManamon for Connolly (56), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (65).
Mayo: D Clarke; G Cafferkey, C Barrett, K Keane; D Vaughan, L Keegan, C Boyle; J Gibbons, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, C Carolan; M Conroy, J Doherty, C O’Connor.
Subs for Mayo: R Feeney for Doherty (35), B Gallagher for Gibbons (45), M Walsh for Keane (45), A Murphy for Carolan (56), E Regan for McLaughlin (65).