Forewarned they were, but Mayo were powerless to prevent yet another third-quarter burst extending the county’s miserable run against Dublin.
The visitors’ game-winning charge at Castlebar wasn’t quite at the level of the unanswered 2-6 they kicked when steamrolling Mayo early in the second-half of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, but it was no less effective in terms of taking care of the result.
Level 0-5 apiece at the break, Dessie Farrell’s men landed 1-3 without reply in the 19 minutes after half-time to maintain the county’s dominance of this fixture.
The Dublin/Mayo dynamic may have been football’s most engrossing of the last decade, but the bare figures tell an altogether different story about a relationship that is becoming increasingly lopsided: the westerners have failed to register a single victory during their last 16 meetings with the Dubs.
Ending that winless streak on Saturday took an almighty blow when Jordan Flynn was red-carded a quarter of an hour in for a high and clumsy challenge on John Small. As well as the numerical advantage that it gifted the travelling party, the sending off put a significant dent in Mayo’s robust opening.
Aidan O’Shea had brought the ever-sizeable Mayo support to full voice when twice turning over Dublin forwards early on, the Breaffy man lending a helping hand to a defence where youngsters Padraig O’Hora and Oisin Mullin showed well in light of the company they were keeping.
From the moment Barry Cassidy reached for the red card, however, Mayo were on borrowed time. Behind by 0-3 to 0-1 at this juncture, the Dubs proceeded to outscore their hosts by 1-11 to 0-5.
Was it a merited dismissal?
“Anyone I met thought it was very, very harsh,” said James Horan. “We started well and dealt well with [the sending off] in the first half. Our energy and tackling was good. In the third quarter, Dublin got a couple of scores, whereas we missed a couple of frees and dropped one short. We needed to get those to stay in the game, and that gave them momentum. Bodies get tired when that happens.
“It is always frustrating against a team the quality of Dublin to have an extra man for the length they did and it is very tough on the guys.
“But even though we lost, I would be happy with many aspects of the game.”
Dublin boss Farrell, while claiming not to have seen Flynn’s challenge, believes the Croke Park instruction to referees this spring is to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to ill-discipline. “To be fair, I thought [the referee] did well, [overall]. It’s interesting to me how discipline seems to be big on the referees’ agenda at the minute, that’s obviously a diktat that’s coming from on high.”
The new Dublin manager continued: “You are always more concerned when your opposition goes down a man. The tendency is to try to even it out, so discipline was a big, big thing for us in that second half. We didn’t play particularly well in the first half. We were slow getting out of the traps, and Mayo brought a lot of energy and intensity. But in the second half, we were much better.”
With Kevin McManamon, Dean Rock (free), and James McCarthy kicking three of the first half’s last four scores to bring Dublin level at the break, the All-Ireland champions, as is their wont, and even though they were well below their swashbuckling best, drained the life from the Mayo challenge during the third quarter.
The crucial score during their 1-3 burst was Dean Rock’s 45th-minute goal, the two-time All-Star ingeniously palming a McManamon delivery over the head of keeper Rob Hennelly.
This league fixture became pretty nondescript thereafter. Not even the 61st minute sin-binning of Michael Fitzsimons could arrest the one-way nature of proceedings.
McCarthy, Rock (free), and the lively Aaron Byrne, Byrne making his second league appearance off the bench, were at their ease in stretching the Dublin lead out to seven. Fellow newcomer Dan O’Brien also got on the scoresheet.
Their hosts encountered far greater trouble in locating the target, clocking seven wides inside the opening 25 minutes and 10 overall. The second half was 22 minutes old by the time James Durcan (free) added to Mayo’s first-half total of 0-5. Tommy Conroy’s 67th-minute point, meanwhile, was their first from play since the 26th minute.
“We might get another chance against them soon, you never know,” replied Horan when asked if the county’s winless streak against Dublin was a source of annoyance. No more than the red card, one got the impression he wasn’t prepared to express his true feelings on a record which must surely be gnawing away at all involved in the Mayo camp.
Scorers for Dublin: D Rock (1-3, 0-3 frees); J McCarthy (0-2); J Small, N Scully, C Kilkenny, K McManamon, A Byrne, D O’Brien (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo: J Durcan (0-2 0-1 free), F Boland (0-1 mark, 0-2); D O’Connor (0-1 free), A O’Shea, T Conroy, J Carr (0-1 each).
DUBLIN: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, R O’Carroll, D Byrne; J McCarthy, J Small, E Murchan; B Fenton, B Howard; N Scully, K McManamon, D O’Brien; D Rock, C Kilkenny, C McHugh.
Subs: P Mannion for McHugh (46); L Flatman for O’Carroll (48); P Small for McManamon (55); A Byrne for O’Brien (57); C O’Shea for Murchan (74).
MAYO: R Hennelly; B Harrison, O Mullin, P O’Hora; M Plunkett, C Boyle, P Durcan; S Coen, D O’Connor; F Boland, A O’Shea, J Flynn; R O’Donoghue, J Carr, J Durcan.
Subs: T Conroy for Carr, L Keegan for Boyle (inj, both HT); K McLoughlin for O’Donoghue (48); J McCormack for O’Shea (55); C Loftus for Durcan (65).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).
The game in 60 seconds
Jordan Flynn’s sending off after a quarter of an hour. Yes, 14-man Mayo were more than competitive right the way through to half-time, but minds and bodies began to tire in the second period and the level of resistance offered noticeably deteriorated.
A crowd of 15,148 for a league fixture on February 1 is most impressive. We shouldn't really be that surprised at the large attendance, though, such is the fanaticism of the Mayo support.
A first competitive victory for Dessie Farrell. It is 2009 when Dublin last failed to win either of their opening two league fixtures. Farrell will have been thankful not to have bridged this particular gap.
Mayo’s wait for a first win over Dublin since September of 2012 goes on.
James McCarthy and John Small brought stability to the Dublin defence, while both players also got forward to kick points, two in the case of McCarthy.
Mayo’s Colm Boyle did not reappear for the second-half after picking up an injury late in the first. “He is sore. He got a bad knock on his knee,” said Horan.
Aidan O’Shea, in a deep-sitting role, delivered a rousing opening 20 minutes or so. He was, during this period, the most effective player on the pitch. But not long after Flynn’s sending off, the Mayo management instructed O’Shea to position himself in the Mayo full-forward line where he was picked up by Rory O’Carroll. Over time, his lost presence out the field was keenly felt by the home side. In hindsight, it was a move which should not have been made.
Barry Cassidy was booed by the Mayo supporters both at half-time and full-time. Yes, Jordan Flynn was high, late, clumsy, and reckless when challenging John Small, but a yellow card would have been sufficient punishment. Opting for a red card was almost as rash as the incident itself. Just before Diarmuid O’Connor was booked in the second period, a Mayo player was clearly fouled and yet no free was given. This heightened Mayo dissatisfaction with Cassidy.
Dublin entertain Monaghan at Croke Park this Saturday. The following afternoon, Mayo are in Navan to face Meath.