Dublin 3-15 Mayo 1-14: It lacked the deliriousness of the All-Ireland semi-final replay 12 months earlier, when Mayo and Kerry set Limerick alight, but this last four second act wanted for little else, save the sort of dramatic ending that seemed a given for so long.
As it was, a week that had begun with Dublin criticised for their inability to turn a seven-point lead into victory, and castigated for failing to play the game in the sort of sporting spirit expected, ended with them restoring people’s faith in not just themselves but the game as a whole.
Mayo played their part, of course. For over 40 minutes they traded blows – metaphorical rather than literal this time – before falling behind to a rat-ta-tat run of scores from their opponents. There was no Lazarus on the bench this time.
The one unedifying note was Diarmuid Connolly, not because of anything he did on the pitch, but because of what he had been deemed guilty of six days earlier and the fact that the resultant one-match suspension unspooled early Saturday morning.
Still, 33 scores, just a handful of yellow cards, one black and no red; there was nary a sign of an individual or collective fuse being lit – thanks in part to a superb refereeing performance from Eddie Kinsella – and it all played out in front of 81,897 rapt faces.
The first-half was balletic.
Twenty points were shared and with just a quarter of them emanating from placed balls. The nasty air that hung over the drawn game was all but absent with both teams learning the lesson that discipline brings its own reward.
The winning and losing of it was so Dublin. And so Mayo.
Mayo’s goal after 43 minutes, a score sourced through Andy Moran’s industry and converted thanks to a contortionist’s flick of the foot from Cillian O’Connor, eased them four points in front and with the bright lights of September flickering in front of their eyes.
It was a sight that blinded rather than dazzled. Lee Keegan kicked a shot short in to Stephen Cluxton’s hands and a handful of other raids were spilled in turnovers. Dublin, rattled momentarily, rallied and in a style that Tommy Lyons and Pillar Caffrey would have recognised.
Damned for their adherence to that cavalier abandon last year when Donegal’s Roundheads undid them, Dublin pulled through on their traditional principles. Just eleven minutes separated their three goals from Bernard Brogan, Philly McMahon and Kevin McManamon.
The Hill heaved, a familiar pang of nausea gripped the green and red.
drop cap For all the talk about lessons absorbed 12 months ago, Dublin’s motto could still be one of: ‘gung-ho or go home’, but worries will continue to pull at them as they look to cram as much prep into the shortened two-week window between their semi-final duties and the decider.
Most obvious is their continued vulnerability. Mayo identified that seam twice without exacting the price Donegal demanded in 2014 and one which the keen eyes of the watching Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice will surely feel confident of claiming later this month.
The security or otherwise of their defence will always remain a key question while their midfield remains a work in progress, so much so that Brian Fenton has emerged as their main man in the middle though this is his first year in the big kids’ playground.
Even their once-abundant riches up front are stretched. Eoghan O’Gara is out injured all summer, Cormac Costello has fallen out of favour, Paul Flynn is strangely subdued and Dean Rock’s confidence looks decidedly shaky, especially from frees.
The flip side on Saturday contained the redemption of McMahon with his contribution on Aidan O’Shea and tally of 1-1, Paddy Andrews’ five points in what was his best display in a blue shirt and a return to solid and dependable normality from Stephen Cluxton.
Add to that a bench which finally punched a hole in proceedings after quiet contributions against Fermanagh and again against Mayo the week before. McManamon was chief among them in claiming 1-2 and he had a small hand in the other goals as well.
Alan Brogan offered poise and nous and a killer pass for his brother’s critical goal, Michael Darragh Macauley buzzed about with something like his old abandon and Michael Fitzsimons emerged off the bench to shut up the shop at the other end.
Mayo will nod at all that and still believe that this was a game lost as much as won. If only they hadn’t blinked. If only Seamus O’Shea wasn’t shown that black card for throwing Johnny Cooper to the ground just after half-time.
If only the gods didn’t toy with them so.
Once again, this will be someone else’s year.
Scorers for Dublin:
P Andrews (0-5); P McMahon (1-2); B Brogan and K McManamon both (1-1); C Kilkenny (0-2); D Rock (0-2 frees); J McCarthy and B Fenton (both 0-1).
Scorers for Mayo:
C O’Connor (1-6, 0-5 frees); D O’Connor (0-2); L Keegan, A O’Shea, K McLoughlin, B Moran and P Durcan (all 0-1); A Moran (0-1 free).
S Cluxton; P McMahon, R O’Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, D Connolly, C Kilkenny; B Brogan, D Rock, P Andrews.
MD Macauley for Bastick and M Fitzsimons for Cooper (both 45); A Brogan for Flynn (52); K McManamon for Rock (53); E Lowndes for Connolly (69); J Small for B Brogan (71).
R Hennelly; G Cafferkey, D Vaughan, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Barrett, C Boyle; B Moran, A O’Shea; D O’Connor, S O’Shea, K McLoughlin; J Doherty, T Parsons, C O’Connor.
P Durcan for Vaughan (34); A Moran for S O’Shea (black card, 39); A Freeman for B Moran (55); D Drake for Boyle (60); S Coen for Parsons (65); M Ronaldson for McLoughlin (70).
E Kinsella (Laois)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved