PAYING THEIR RESPECTS Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly and his team-mates applaud the career of the late Fr Peter Quinn before the start of last Saturday evening’s match in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
IT wasn’t quite good enough to bring down the Dubs, but Mayo did pose the All-Ireland champions a serious challenge which was a vast improvement on the hammering dished out to them by Cork a week earlier.
Mayo’s two-point defeat leaves them still clinging to the bottom of the table, but Stephen Rochford will take heart from the character of the team he sent out to restore the pride so badly dented the previous week.
A side stitched together in the wake of so many casualties held their shape in the face of Dublin’s strong running in heavy, wintry conditions at MacHale Park. Their unswerving application under intense pressure confined the vaunted Dublin attack to a single point from play for the 70 minutes.
It does not suggest that the picture of Mayo’s league prospects is suddenly rosy again. If they had a forward line as productive as their defence, it might be a different story. Poor shooting from easy range cost them dearly, as it has so often in the past.
The amount of injuries to top players weighed heavily on expectations before the game, and when it was announced that midfielder Jason Gibbons had cried off, the nightmare of last year’s 14-points defeat at the same venue began to loom ominously.
Breaffy’s Michael Hall was shunted into the defence, with Donal Vaughan, Aidan O’Shea and Diarmuid O’Connor accompanying Tom Parsons in turns around the middle of the field.
Not that midfield was much of an influence, since Dublin gambled on breaking every high ball around the centre in hope that their more fleet-footed half-lines would benefit from grounded ball.
They also started with feisty Philly McMahon at centre back instead of first-choice Cian O’Sullivan. To be sure, McMahon was installed expressly to intimidate Aidan O’Shea, and the game was no more than three minutes old when each got in the other’s ear, and the Dub was sent packing for a black-card offence.
A couple of minutes later, Diarmuid O’Connor fisted the opening score of the match, a lovely point from the left wing. The Ballintubber man proceeded to play his heart out for the rest of the game, harassing and haring with almost endless stamina.
Dublin had kicked three wides by the time Dean Rock floated the ball over the bar for their first point. Out of their Croke Park comfort zone, the visitors resorted to ‘keep-ball’ for most of the game because of fierce resistance from the Mayo defence.
Corner backs Brendan Harrison and Caolan Crowe competently tied down Dean Rock and Paul Mannion. Full-back Ger Cafferkey offered no comfort to the normally free-scoring Paddy Andrews, and one powerful intervention by Crowe personified Mayo’s mindset in defending their goal.
The half-back line of Michael Hall, Colm Boyle and Shane Nally was equally tight, cancelling out the combined effect of Tomas Brady, Diarmuid Connolly and Ciaran Kilkenny. Mayo pulled 13 players back behind the ball to help out, and all added his stone to the impregnable barricade.
Connolly followed up Rock’s opener with his only score of the game, but Mayo responded with points by Regan and Hennelly from a 45’ to put them into the lead for the second time in the 27th minute.
By half-time they had lost that lead, however, to points by Denis Bastick and Rock from a 45’. One point down (0-4 to 0-3) posed the question: could Mayo maintain that same spirit and gameness in the energy-sapping conditions after the break.
After a couple of missed opportunities O’Connor brought Mayo back to level terms in the 42nd minute with a fine exemplary point. But two from frees by Rock and another from wing back James McCarthy shot the visitors three ahead.
Mayo were denied an equalising opportunity for a penalty when Aidan O’ Shea – not the true Aidan O’Shea in this game, it must be said – was hauled down while in possession in the box. Referee Hughes was lenient in awarding Dublin a free out.
That setback did not deter Mayo. Regan from a free cut the lead to two, Costello and Hennelly exchanged scores and so did Emmet Ó Conghaile and Regan. But Dublin managed to resist a late rally. And following a fiery exchange seconds from the end, Colm Boyle and Dublin’s John Small were sidelined for double-yellow card offences.
A minute’s silence was observed before the game as a mark of respect to the late Kevin Loftus, brother of former GAA president Dr Mick Loftus, and Fr Peter Quinn, of the All-Ireland winning Mayo side of 1950-51.
S Cluxton; J Cooper, M Fitzsimons, D Byrne; J McCarthy (0-1), P McMahon, J Small; E Ó Conghaile (0-1), D Bastick (0-1); T Brady, D Connolly (0-1), C Kilkenny; P Andrews, D Rock (0-4, 3f, 1 45’), P Mannion.
Subs used: J McCaffrey for McMahon (3 mins, black card); S McCarthy for Bastick (h-t); C Reddin for Brady (46 mins); C Costello (0-1) for Mannion (53 mins); P Ryan for Andrews (64 mins); D Daly for Cooper (70 mins, black card).
R Hennelly (0-2, 2 45s); B Harrison, G Cafferkey, C Crowe; M Hall, C Boyle, S Nally; T Parsons, D Vaughan; C O’Shea, A O’Shea, D O’Connor (0-2); E Regan (0-3, 2f), J Doherty, M Sweeney.
Subs used: J Gibbons for Parsons (h-t); D Drake for Vaughan (42 mins); K Higgins for Hall (53 mins); C Carolan for Sweeney (57 mins); D McHale for C O’Shea (67 mins); S McHale for Nally (70 mins).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)