SPOT THE BALL Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke dives to save a follow up effort from Dublin’s Paddy Andrews who had his penalty kick saved moments earlier during the side’s National League clash on Saturday night. Pic: Sportsfile
IN view of their history, few Mayo supporters would have been sufficiently optimistic to expect a Mayo victory in Croke Park on Saturday evening. Neither, however, would they have predicted the extent of the gulf that still exists between Mayo and Dublin.
From the opening moment of this league tie Mayo were in retreat, outpaced and outthought by the quicksilver metropolitans. Fans stared in disbelief at Mayo’s anaemic performance, just as Roscommon fans had done in MacHale Park at their side’s collapse the previous week.
Frighteningly for the rest of the country, Dublin exacted this heavy toll with seven changes from their All-Ireland starting 15, all of them adapting to the reconstructed side as if they had been experienced performers.
And yet it was perhaps their most experienced member who orchestrated and conducted the annihilation. Midfielder Michael Darragh MacAuley was at his mercurial best from the opening moments. Like a will o’-the-wisp, he teased and tormented Mayo from the outset and no one could rein him in.
The extent of their superiority is conveyed boldly in Mayo’s meagre total of two points in the first half, the two from dead-ball kicks by Cillian O’Connor. Their first from play came from Stephen Coen four minutes into the second half. None of them made a dent on Dublin’s dominance.
Their lightning start had Mayo stretched in all directions. And when a kick-out by David Clarke was intercepted and the unseasoned Conor McHugh pounced on the cross to turn the ball into the net seven minutes into the game, Mayo hearts among the attendance of 34,758 sank once more.
Mayo did embark on some sort of recovery. But there was no punch up front, no physical power, no committed support to make their attacks count. Dublin, fitter and faster, were almost always first to the ball and devastating in their combined play.
On two occasions Mayo might have broken down the defence. Kevin McLoughlin got through in the 20th minute but his weak shot did not bother Stephen Cluxton. Cillian O’Connor, too, came close, but his effort from a narrow angle was smothered.
Were it not for the vigilance of Clarke, Mayo might have finished the half more that the six points (1-5 to 0-2) that separated them. The goalkeeper got down smartly to parry a shot from MacAuley. The Dubliner, following up, swept the ball into the net, but was adjudged to have handled it on the ground.
Tom Parsons and Lee Keegan had started in place of Donie Newcombe and David Drake. But no amount of changes improved the situation. Midfield still laboured, Dublin won most of the breaks and as their youngsters romped all over the place Mayo struggled to keep up.
Regan, from frees, and Coen had three quick points after the break. But the opposition countered each competently, and six minutes into the second half were seven points ahead and sailing.
By the time Mayo had their next score, a point by Tom Parsons in the 46th minute, and their last a minute later by the redoubtable Colm Boyle, Dublin had extended their lead to nine ... Dean Rock, McHugh and Philly McMahon doing the damage.
Shane Carthy, Niall Scully and Eric Lowndes revelled in their elevations. And – unable to escape their clawing tackles – a lot of Mayo’s mistakes stemmed from frustration. Having run out of ideas, they kicked often wildly and inaccurately.
Not even the brilliance of Clarke could inspire them. His dual save and follow-up from a penalty by Paddy Andrews in the 48th minute ought to have prompted a decent response.
Instead, it ended in a black card for Donal Vaughan for his foul on Dean Rock a few feet from the goal.
S Cluxton; P McMahon (0-2), M Fitzsimons, D Byrne; D Daly, J Small, E Lowndes (0-2); B Fenton, MD MacAuley; N Scully, D Rock (0-8, 6f), SB Carthy; C Kilkenny, E O’Gara, C McHugh (1-3).
Subs used: P Andrews for O’Gara; P Flynn (0-1) for Carthy; C Reddin for Byrne; C Mullally for Small; K McManamon for McHugh; E Ó Conghaile for Fenton.
D Clarke; L Keegan, K Higgins, P Durcan; S Coen (0-1), C Boyle (0-1), D Vaughan; T Parsons (0-1), J Gibbons; F Boland, K McLoughlin, D O’Connor; E Regan (0-2, 2f), C O’Connor (0-2, 2 45s), A Moran.
Subs used: B Harrison for Gibbons; C O’Shea for Moran; C Loftus for D O’Connor; S Nally for Vaughan; D Kirby for Boland.
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)