Mayo 0-7 Dublin 0-9: After just two rounds of league football, Mayo already look to have a huge fight on their hands to retain their top-flight status.
There is plenty of exculpatory evidence to account for their two defeats but they have tough games coming up away to Donegal and Monaghan and Stephen Rochford can see the enormity of the challenge facing him.
Top of the list is the shocking injury problems that have robbed him of experienced players like Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Seamus O’Shea, Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and probably most significantly of all Cillian O’Connor. But despite all the setbacks Rochford has suffered in the early weeks of his tenure, he will secretly be delighted with the response of his team in defeat to Dublin.
Against such a seasoned outfit as Jim Gavin’s All-Ireland and league champions, there was concern that Mayo would suffer a trimming on their own patch on Saturday night. Instead, they went toe-to-toe with Dublin, much like they did last August and September in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Players like wing-back Shane Nally, forward Evan Regan and corner-back Caolan Crowe stood up and drove standards. Veterans Donie Vaughan and Ger Cafferkey put in very good displays. If the new boss can mould the old with the new, he’ll have another powerful Mayo outfit to cajole through the summer.
“These guys have high standards as well,” said Rochford. “There was nobody hurting more than them coming up from Cork last week. I didn’t need to ask them, beg them, anything like that.
“They are a proud bunch and ultimately they are still hurting today because we didn’t get the two points.”
On this windy, wet Castlebar night, Dublin’s patience and fearlessness won through. Despite shooting seven wides before half-time — some of them very poor — the Dublin players stuck to their task into the wind and prized a win from a grinding encounter.
Four points from Dean Rock were critical, especial two in the second-half, which sandwiched James McCarthy’s brilliant 47th-minute point. That was the only time in the game that either side kicked three points in a row and it was vital.
With two wins from two, Dublin look to have eased their way into the season perfectly. There was nothing pretty about this win, and despite Ciaran Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly and Paddy Andrews sharing just one point between them in the face of an excellent defensive effort from Mayo, Dublin earned the win.
It was spiky from the off, with Philly McMahon black carded for a lunge at Aidan O’Shea in the third minute. Johnny Cooper followed suit in the 71st minute, while another four yellow cards were flashed before the break when Dublin led 0-4 to 0-3.
Despite his sending-off along with John Small in injury-time, Colm Boyle showed those around him the intensity required to take on Dublin, although he will be disappointed to overstep the mark in the final minute.
Regan had Mayo’s best goal chance after 22 minutes but he blasted over from close range, while Connolly and Denis Bastick kicked Dublin’s only points from play before half-time.
With the significant wind advantage, Diarmuid O’Connor kicked Mayo level eight minutes after the restart and the 10,520 inside MacHale Park sensed an upset, but that triggered Dublin’s best period.
With a three-point lead in the bag Dublin’s defence went into shut-down mode. Mayo went on to kick three points from dead balls before the end, but at the other end substitute Cormac Costello and Emmet O Conghaile kicked fine points from play. In the end it was methodical from Dublin.
“We expected it to be that physical. The underfoot conditions were going to slow the pace down a bit, and ball-handling was going to be difficult,” said Jim Gavin.
S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, J Cooper, David Byrne; J McCarthy, P McMahon, J Small; D Bastick, E O Conghaile; T Brady, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; D Rock, P Mannion, P Andrews.
J McCaffrey for McMahon (3 BC), S Carthy for Bastick (ht), C Reddin for Brady (47), C Costello for Mannion (45), P Ryan for Andrews (66), D Daly for Cooper (71 BC).
R Hennelly; G Cafferkey, C Crowe, B Harrison; C Boyle, M Hall, S Nally; T Parsons, A O’Shea; D O’Connor, D Vaughan, C O’Shea; E Regan, J Doherty, M Sweeney.
J Gibbons for Parsons (h-t), D Drake for Vaughan (43), K Higgins for Hall (45), C Carolan for Sweeney (58), D McHale for C O’Shea (66), S McHale for Nally (71).
P Hughes (Armagh).
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