Rewind two weeks to the Connacht U21 final; Mayo were forced to spend most of the afternoon chasing their tails after conceding 1-3 in the opening eight minutes.
Fifty-seven minutes had elapsed before Roscommon were reeled in, a Liam Irwin goal completing Mayo’s comeback effort.
On Saturday afternoon in Tullamore, the problem was not their start. In fact, Mayo didn’t put a foot wrong when forging 1-4 to 0-0 clear by the 11th minute — Diarmuid O’Connor punching to the net after decent approach work by Irwin.
The issues on this occasion surfaced early in the second period. Sliced open time and time again during the third quarter, Dublin hit the westerners for 1-9.
Mayo’s response? A measly two points.
With the clock reading 48 minutes, Mayo were 1-13 to 1-9 in arrears — a 10-point swing on their 1-7 to 0-4 interval advantage. Time to starting chasing tails again.
Three Liam Irwin frees reduced the gap to the minimum and although the Mayo corner-forward kicked wide when attempting to land the equaliser on 58 minutes, Matthew Ruane made no mistake off his left a minute later following a searching run from midfield.
Colm Basquel, set-up by Aaron Elliot, returned Dublin in front as the clock entered the red; the bleeding stopped, well, momentarily at least.
A foul on the excellent Diarmuid O’Connor enabled Conor Loftus tie proceedings in the third minute of stoppages. A second foul on O’Connor from the ensuing kick-out and Mayo had their chance to snatch victory. Loftus again assumed responsibility as the clock moved into the fifth minute of injury time and he held his nerve to kick Mayo into a first All-Ireland U21 final since 2006.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” said Mayo manager Michael Solan.
“When you finish like that, we’ll take it. To be four points down and to get to that position, it was a serious effort so we’d be fairly happy with that. The players did an absolutely massive job for the last 15 or 20 minutes. They’re a great bunch and thankfully, they showed that again today.”
Of concern though, surely, was the manner in which his charges fell off the radar early in the second-half. Players who exerted considerable influence when running at the Dublin defence in the opening half — Shairoze Akram, Stephen Coen, Fergal Boland and Diarmuid O’Connor —were reduced to mere bystanders as Dessie Farrell’s side swept all before them.
Con O’Callaghan, put through by Glenn O’Reilly and Basquel, kicked low to the Mayo net on 39 minutes. Level at 1-8 apiece, Dublin pressed ahead with five of the next six scores; Michael Deegan (0-3), O’Callaghan (free) and Basquel on target.
“We got ourselves into a decent position at half-time, but I suppose we were on the opposite side of it to what we were in the Connacht final. We came out and were under the cosh a little for the first few minutes,” continued Solan.
“I said after the Connacht final that there’s an awful lot of heart and guts in these boys and thankfully, they were able to show that again.”
For Dublin boss Farrell, a second successive All-Ireland semi-final defeat was hard to stomach.
“We just ran out of steam and ran out of a few ideas in the last few minutes.
“They obviously had a little bit left in the tank and were able to pick us off. We were just slow and lethargic [in the first-half]. We just looked out on our feet. There was none of the coming off the shoulder and opening them up.
“That wasn’t happening at all. You’d just be annoyed how... obviously late in a tight game like that, those last couple of plays are under the spotlight more than anything else. A mistake in the last minute is very different to a mistake in the first minute.
“We turned over some ball that we shouldn’t have. Even the throw ball, we won. But instead of winning a free, we coughed it up and that was the difference.”
D O’Connor (1-1); L Irwin (0-4, 0-3 frees), C Loftus (0-4 frees); F Boland (0-2); S Akram, S Coen, M Ruane, F Duffy (0-1 each).
C O’Callaghan (1-5, 0-3 frees); C Basquel, M Deegan (0-3 each); P Small (0-1 free), E Murchan, G O’Reilly (0-1 each).
M Flanagan (Balla); E O’Donoghue (Belmullet), S Cunniffe (Ballaghadereen), D Kenny (Aghamore); M Plunkett (Ballintubber), M Hall (Breaffy), S Akram (Ballaghadereen); M Ruane (Breaffy), S Coen (Hollymount/Carramore); F Boland (Aghamore), C Loftus (Crossmolina), D O’Connor (Ballintubber); L Irwin (Breffy), F Duffy (Crossmolina), B Reape (Moy Davitts).
E Doran (Achill) for Cunniffe (HT), J Carr (Ardagh) for Duffy (41), J Kelly (Belmullet) for Plunkett (51).
L Molloy (St Anne’s); S McMahon (Raheny), E Smith (Skerries Harps), S Clayton (Ballyboden St Enda’s); C O’Shea (Kilmacud Crokes), M Cahilan (Cuala), B Howard (Raheny); A Foley (Clontarf), K Deeley (Na Fianna); T Lahiff (St Jude’s), C Basquel (Ballyboden St Enda’s), G O’Reilly (Na Fianna); P Small (Ballymun Kickhams), C O’Callaghan (Cuala), M Deegan (Donaghmore Ashbourne)
E Murchan (Na Fianna) for Cahilan (24), D Spillane (Cuala) for Small (37), K Doherty (St Jude’s) for Deeley (46), A Elliot (Ballymun Kickhams) for O’Reilly (56), D Monaghan (Clontarf) for Smith (60).
N Cullen (Fermanagh).