Redemption. Reformation. Rehabilitation.
All of the above applied to this restorative Dublin display as they shed a bad rap in six days. From border-line tyrannical to emphatically talismanic, they showed their Janus-like capabilities not just in behaviour (some first-half back chat being the exception) but performance too.
There was no Punch and Judy show here even if the crowd were geared up for more panto, the booing of Diarmuid Connolly (cleared to play) and Lee Keegan indicative of their boisterous intent. What they were treated to was more Abbey than Gaiety, the only “he’s behind you” reserved for Mayo when Dublin, four points in arrears with little over 16 minutes of normal time left, took a wooden bat to them.
But there were no villains in blue and navy. Connolly and Keegan chose not to shake hands at the outset but by the end the Mayo defender was seeking his marker to let bygones be bygones. After Aidan O’Shea’s head-butt claims against Philly McMahon the previous Sunday, we kept an eye on them too. Last week’s shenanigans was replaced by a largely wholesome, high-quality duel, with O’Shea too isolated on too many occasions for Mayo’s liking.
Their end here came by way of football. In less than four minutes, the explosiveness synonymous with Dublin manifested itself in the form of 2-2. In the space of 88 seconds, Rob Hennelly’s goal-line was breached twice. Substitute Michael Darragh Macauley was instrumental in the creation of both goals as Bernard Brogan was in despatching the first and setting up McMahon for the other.
“I think the boys showed great heart and desire and character,” enthused Jim Gavin, while conceding there is a risk attached to the way Dublin play.
“We knew it was going to be a very difficult game, and it transpired that way. But the boys stuck to the process and we knew if we did that we’d hopefully keep ourselves in a position to get the result.” Mayo looked bewildered as Dublin ran at them having won a kick-out in each instance. Some of their positioning was unforgivable. They may have got men back but they appeared unsure of their roles. A four-point advantage in any replay will be taken but it may have provided Mayo a false sense of comfort.
Fatigue was mentioned afterwards. Asked to lift themselves after two body blows, they could only get to their knees and chief hangman Kevin McManamon administered the rabbit punch.
“They did look out on the feet,” admitted co-manager Noel Connelly. “There’s no doubt about that but in fairness to Dublin, they had the same turnaround as us. Very hard to put your finger on the pulse with that one. But with 15 minutes to go, we seemed to be lethargic in a lot of areas in the field.”
Connelly and Pat Holmes will come in for criticism after benching Barry Moran just prior to Dublin’s first goal. Having lost Seamus O’Shea, a tad harshly, to a black card in the 39th minute, Mayo had only one recognised midfielder for the remainder. Aidan O’Shea did move back but throw-ins have virtually been the extent of his midfield play this summer. Facing an energetic Brian Fenton and a resurgent Macauley, Mayo faltered.
Of Moran’s substitution, Connelly explained: “We just thought he was running out of steam at that stage and we thought that by bringing in fresh legs, we might just turn Dublin to a degree in the middle of the field. But it didn’t turn out that day.” What will haunt Mayo is how quickly they fell behind after carefully fashioning that four-point lead in the third quarter. Cillian O’Connor’s goal, finished with admirable dexterity and ingenuity, had been the highlight of that period. On an evening where referee Eddie Kinsella impressed - notwithstanding the dubious Seamus O’Shea call - he correctly waved off Jonny Cooper’s complaints about O’Connor switching hands in the process of scoring.
Another opening presented itself a minute later only for a rampaging Keegan, only to kick short into Stephen Cluxton’s hands. It turned out to be the let-offs of all let-offs.
Connelly recalled: “Had Lee picked off his, we turned over a few balls in the middle third. Those were crucial attacks. We feel that if we had scored a couple more in that period of dominance, gone five or six up, it may have been a different game.”
Even with half of their forward line - Connolly, Paul Flynn and Dean Rock - playing below their high standards, Dublin advance to face Kerry knowing not only do they have able back-up on the bench but they have closed the gap on their age-old rivals in the battle-hardened stakes.
Momentum and hunger, as the non-defending champions, also favours them. They will have also studied Kerry to the nth degree. Gavin, in his attempt to play dumb on that matter, over-egged his delivery.
“I haven’t seen much of them. We played them back in the spring on a miserable day in Killarney. They looked very serious that day. They played with great intent. We’ve a bit of catching up to do. I know their management team were here for the Leinster final, the league final, the last two games, so they’ve got a good look at us.
“(They are) a team full of stars, not only on the starting 15 but also on the bench as well. And there’s an expectation that they are going to win it back to back. So it’s all uphill for us.” Steeled by these last two weekends, they have enough gears to compensate.
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