Shades of Messi as Con O'Callaghan lights up enthralling final

Con O'Callaghan. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin, by the skin of their teeth, dragged themselves over the line and ensured their place in history as one of the all-time great GAA teams.

It was an enthralling, gladiatorial battle, especially for the neutral spectator. The match-ups were fascinating — here’s my take on how the main duels unfolded.

Andy Moran v Mick Fitzsimons:

Andy was expected to be quieter yesterday, but he was hungrier than ever. Mick Fitz is a ferocious tackler and brilliant reader of the game but Andy still managed to score three great points in the first half. He almost won every ball that went into him. In the second half, Tom Parsons made a great catch, passed to Aidan O’Shea who found Andy, thanks to his trademark off the ball run. His quick transfer to Lee Keegan made it a memorable goal. He did shoot one wide in both halves and was taken off after his second, probably a bad shot selection as he had men outside him. Mick Fitz never let Andy inside him and was always an option for the short kick-out. He made a few lung bursting runs but overall Andy probably won this one.

Cillian O’Connor locked horns with Philly McMahon for the 77 minutes and kicked seven points, four frees. He was always winning the ball away from the goal though and naturally had to work fierce hard for his scores. Cillian sent four shots astray and they will be the ones remembered today. When Mick Fitz gave a slight pull of the elbow on the 70th minute and Cillian failed to convert the free, it was all too reminiscent of Ray Cosgrove hitting the post against Armagh all those years ago. Philly was his usually dogged self and made life hard for every Mayo player, but Cillian won the duel overall.

Jason Doherty had Jonny Cooper for company yesterday and in the first half the Mayo forward won his battle. He scored two good points and was actively looking for to be an outlet. He went deep a lot though and this allowed Jonny to play the sweeper role effectively at times. Jonny took a few rolls on the ground and, in fairness to Joe McQuillan, he didn’t fall for them. Jonny dominated the second half and narrowly won this duel.

Jack McCaffrey was pitted against Kevin McLaughlin and unfortunately for everyone Jack had to retire inside ten minutes due to injury. This unsettled Dublin hugely as Paul Flynn came in cold and made a lot of uncharacteristic kick-passing errors. The Knockmore attacker was once again brilliant yesterday and scored two splendid points and made some crucial interceptions back in his own half-back line. John Small was happy to let Kevin roam and the Ballymun half-back drove at Mayo constantly in the first half, scoring a vital point into the Hill. His first yellow was for checking runners but he stood his ground for the second incident. What was he supposed to do, move out of his way? Spoils shared.

Donal Vaughan was paired with Cian O’Sullivan:

For long periods of the first half, Vaughan was winning this battle and scored a good point. But as the game wore on, Cian O’Sullivan once again showed his worth and drove the Dubs on. He was class when the chips were down.Vaughan, not for the first time, needlessly got involved in afters and will be gutted today. O’Sullivan claims this one.

The midfield sector can be broken into two areas: Aerial domination and use of the ball. Mayo made sure to have the two O’Sheas, Tom Parsons, and Donal Vaughan close to each other when David Clarke went long. For the majority of the game, Mayo won this battle, especially the impressive Tom Parsons, while Aidan O’Shea handled heaps of ball and worked his socks off. My Player of the Year, James McCarthy, was happy to let Big Aidan handle the ball but outside the danger area. While Tom Parsons secured some great marks, McCarthy made the winning mark. Tiny margins. Honours shared.

Lee Keegan tested the fabric of Ciaran Kilkenny’s jersey all day. It lasted, just about. Keegan nullified the Castleknock youngster better than anyone else this year, but imagine if he was given a free role? Mayo should have risked letting him loose. Kilkenny is so determined and athletic that he came more into the game in the last 15 minutes and ultimately made some telling runs. Spoils shared.

The mighty Boyle against the mighty Con.

What a goal by the Cuala boy. Like Messi, he slipped in between all the lunging Mayo elbows and rolled in a sublime goal. Such a free-spirited player, Con has lit up the Championship. As you would expect, Colm Boyle never gave up, but Con won this battle.

Paddy Durcan shackled Paul Mannion superbly in the first half, but was strangely moved off him in the second. Brendan Harrison was given the run around in the second half as Mannion tormented the Mayo defence with three vital points. The Stillorgan man won the duel.

Dublin’s Paul Mannion celebrates after the All-Ireland final at Croke Park yesterday. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile 

Keith Higgins did a great job on Dean Rock in the first half, keeping him to one point from play. Once again, Mayo changed their markers. Chris Barrett picked up Rock and showed us some of the most brilliant individual movements of defending. Yet Rock is the hero today. He took the safe option of punching a point late in the game, but nerves of steel with the last kick. I’m calling this duel a draw.

Paddy Andrews was well marked by Chris Barrett but his replacement, Kevin McManamon, was industrious, influencing another big game. He pulled Paddy Durcan all over the field though Durcan drove forward brilliantly at times. Kevin Mac wins for me.

Eoghan O’Gara was battering every green ’n‘ red jersey in the first half. Brendan Harrison was equal to him though. He emptied the tank, scored a point, and paved the way for Diarmuid Connolly. While Connolly didn’t get on as much ball as he would have liked, bar one hasty left-footed shot he was immense. A brilliant point, some great interlinking, and winning the free at the death.

Cluxton and Clarke both produced marvellous saves, both kicked very measuredly, accurately, and with purpose. Clarke deserved his All Star last year. However, this year’s gong will be going back to the greatest skipper and the greatest goalkeeper I’m ever likely to see.

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