Dublin 2-9 Mayo 0-15: The do-over. The mulligan. It can’t be as bad as this. It won’t. It mustn’t.
It’s what most if not every Dublin and Mayo player will be convincing themselves of this morning.
This stalemate, it wasn’t them. It was a write-off. They’re better than this.
And they are but on the greasiest of Croke Park surfaces, players of both sides looked like newly-born fawns struggling to find their balance. Bambis on ice, when it came to pulling the trigger several looked like pacifists with pistols – Dublin hitting 12 wides to Mayo’s seven, Dublin dropping four short. Dean Rock’s 87% success rate coming into the game was blown into smithereens.
It took Dublin until the 30th minute to register a score for themselves. Thirty minutes is a long time for any team not to raise a flag by their own hand or foot but for this glittering Dublin side it must have felt like a lifetime. Admittedly, both of Mayo’s own goals came by way of Dublin pressure put on their defenders and Brian Fenton would have had a third but for David Clarke making himself big, but under Jim Gavin they have never known scoring starvation like this. Just two of his starting forwards pointed from play. Five second-half points, a total of six points from play over the entirety of the game, it wasn’t as if their graph improved all that much after Rock became his team’s first scorer with that free on the half hour mark.
Dublin were far better in the wet against Kerry 12 months ago and yet looked on their way to joining Kerry as this fledgling century’s only other back-to-back All-Ireland winning team when they went three points up in the 68th minute.
The excellent John Small easily ran past Aidan O’Shea for a 66th minute point and two more followed from Rock (free) and Diarmuid Connolly.
Cillian O’Connor punished a foul on Andy Moran to cut the gap to two and the following announcement of seven additional minutes seemed to buoy Mayo although it was Jonny Cooper who made what looked to be a defining fetch in the last minute of normal time.
Donie Vaughan added his second point in the first injury-time minute but the remainder of this affair was scoreless until O’Connor jigged his way into a scoring position after he was fed by O’Shea, who had a minute earlier kicked wildly wide.
It was a fair result if only to give the two sides another chance to strut their stuff. We’ve mentioned Dublin’s failings but Mayo were guilty of some dreadful football too. On several occasions players were caught either waiting for the ball to come to them or robbed in possession and intercepted; on at least 12 occasions in the first half they were turned over. It smacked not only of poor concentration but questionable communication.
Mayo did have the opening goal chance in the sixth minute when Aidan O’Shea fed Patrick Durcan and Cooper managed to block it but the next opportunity fell to Dublin where their midfield pairing combined to find Bernard Brogan. His shot was parried in the direction of Kevin McLoughlin who couldn’t move his feet in time to stop diverting it into his own net.
Michael Darragh Macauley was blessed not to be black carded in the 16th minute for a trip on Lee Keegan, a free which O’Connor converted, and there was another positive for Dublin in the 22nd minute when in trying to retrieve a Connolly free Rock spilt the ball onto Colm Boyle’s feet and his momentum put the ricochet past Clarke.
Mayo, with their history of hurt, had double the reason to think it was going to be another September day of anguish but Vaughan came back with a quick score at the other end. James McCarthy was then black-carded for bumping into Cillian O’Connor. On an afternoon when there were ample similar incidents, the Dublin wing-back could count himself unfortunate.
The pre-match handbags set the tone and indeed there was a waft of 2006 when just after 3pm Mayo ran out onto the field almost at the exact same time as Dublin leading to some pushing and pulling between players. The schedule of events showed Dublin were due out first at 2.56pm with Mayo set to enter the field two minutes later.
Rock’s 30th minute free, after Clarke had fouled him, was also a release for Dublin who could get little going in the attack but for those goal chances. Mayo struggled to get a grip on Paddy Andrews when he was introduced for McCarthy and he nabbed a brace of points before the break. Jason Doherty showed great strength to see off Cian O’Sullivan to point in the 34th minute but another Rock free after Andrews’ second score meant Dublin finished out a most surreal half 2-4 to 0-5 to the good.
Even at that stage, Gavin knew it wasn’t good enough. “The luck was certainly with us. And we’ll certainly acknowledge that. We got those two bounces of the ball.”
And so onto Saturday week where Mayo will not just hope to end the pain at the ninth time of asking – we include the ’96 replay – but frank a pretty abysmal record that includes their 2014 and ’15 semi-final defeat and the aforementioned final one 20 years ago.
“We will circle the wagons and get our heads down,” insisted Stephen Rochford. “If the question is aiming towards the character of the group I think that was going to be there whether we won or lost. There is plenty of character in the group. There is a lot of desire to win the final – that is what the next 13 days will be about. I said it to the boys inside ‘put up your hand if you thought you had your best game’. There was nobody putting their hand up.”
Rochford would have been met with the same reaction in the Dublin dressing room. Hands down.
Scorers for Dublin:
K. McLoughlin, C. Boyle (own goals 1-0 each); D. Rock (0-4, 3 frees); P. Andrews (0-2); B. Fenton, J. Small, D. Connolly (0-1 each).
Scorers for Mayo:
C. O’Connor (0-7, 5 frees); A. Moran, D. Vaughan (0-2 each); T. Parsons, J. Doherty, P. Durcan, A. Dillon (0-1 each).
S. Cluxton (c); D. Byrne, P. McMahon, J. Cooper; J. McCarthy, C. O’Sullivan, J. Small; B. Fenton, M.D. Macauley; P. Flynn, D. Connolly, C. Kilkenny; K. McManamon, D. Rock, B. Brogan.
Subs for Dublin:
P. Andrews for J. McCarthy (black, 25); P. Mannion for K. McManamon (47); M. Fitzsimons for M.D. Macauley (52); E. O’Gara for B. Brogan (63); D. Daly for D. Byrne (66); D. Bastick for P. Flynn (70+4).
D. Clarke; B. Harrison, K. Higgins, P. Durcan; C. Boyle, L. Keegan, D. Vaughan; S. O’Shea, T. Parsons; D. O’Connor, J. Doherty, K. McLoughlin; A. Moran, A. O’Shea, C. O’Connor (c).
Subs for Mayo:
A. Dillon for S. O’Shea (55); C. Barrett for C. Boyle (59); B. Moran for A. Dillon (inj 66); S. Coen for D. O’Connor (67); E. Regan for A. Moran (70+1).
C. Lane (Cork).
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