UP AND AT THEM Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea crashes into Dublin’s James McCarthy during Saturday night’s National League game in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
IT was only in injury-time last Saturday night that Mayo decided to stir themselves, throw off the shackles and launch something of a comeback. It was, by then, all too late.
Dublin had led by seven points after 51 minutes. In injury time the gap was the same, with no score coming at either end for 21 minutes.
Dublin were coasting and while only scoring 1-1 in the second half does not read well, the reality is they did not need to do anything more.
Mayo appeared quite happy with the state of affairs too. Granted, there were three poor missed frees in that period from the hosts but they rarely showed any real urgency in that spell to properly launch a comeback.
It led to a tortuous period of play for the 15,313 supporters on the night and only three injury-time frees from Conor Loftus, following some strong running from deep, awoke an indifferent crowd from their slumber.
Ultimately, it was two Dublin goals that gave them the platform for victory.
The first came from Paul Mannion with barely 80 seconds on the clock. There was nothing Rob Hennelly, starting his first league or championship game since the 2016 All-Ireland Final replay, could do about the rocket-like shot.
Dublin’s second goal was more preventable. Dean Rock handpassed across the square for Niall Scully to rise above Hennelly to flick home. Once the Breaffy man chose to leave his goal, he needed to win the ball. Staying on his line may have been more advisable.
Mayo had one goal chance which fell to Adam Gallagher. The Mayo Gaels man put in a busy display so it is a pity he will be remembered for his missed chance less than 60 seconds into the second half. Jason Doherty turned over the ball and fed Gallagher whose attempt to place it in the right corner of the net was off target.
Mayo trailed 1-9 to 0-7 at that stage and a goal could have signalled a comeback.
By the time Scully netted, it was 2-9 to 0-8 and anyone saying the game was not over was devoid of realism.
Mayo started with just two players who manned the first nine positions on the field in last September’s All-Ireland Final, Colm Boyle and the returning Lee Keegan.
Keegan’s comeback from hip surgery is ahead of schedule and he was a big addition to Mayo.
But early doors their full-back line was in trouble and Paul Mannion’s goal on 80 seconds was a real alarm bell.
Messrs O’Donoghue, Cafferkey and Crowe manfully stuck to their guns, but it was always a challenge for them.
On the front foot, Mayo showed some improvement. In the first half Andy Moran was a very useful outlet inside and seven first half points from 11 shots was a good return.
As inevitable as the outcome looked after Scully’s goal, Mayo will point to a poor night on frees (five dead balls were missed), along with Gallagher’s goal chance, to make an argument they could have been closer.
But Dublin looked like a side who always had a gear or two if and when it was needed.
It’s 13 games against Mayo without a defeat now for Jim Gavin and while championship games between the sides are more competitive than league games, we saw nothing on Saturday night to signal any changing of the guard.
S Cluxton; D Daly, M Fitzsimons, D Byrne; J Cooper, J McCarthy, J Small; B Fenton (0-1), MD MacAuley; N Scully (1-0), C Kilkenny (0-1), B Howard; K McManamon, P Mannion (1-1), D Rock (0-6, 4fs).
Subs used: D Connolly for MacAuley 44 mins; C O’Sullivan for Small 44 mins; C Basquel for Mannion inj. 44 mins; C Reddan for Howard 61 mins; P Small for Cooper 64 mins; E Ó Conghaile for Fenton 69 mins.
R Hennelly (0-1, f); G Cafferkey, E O’Donoghue, C Crowe; C Boyle, L Keegan (0-1), M Hall; S Coen (0-1), A O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-2), D O’Connor, D Drake; J Doherty (0-3, fs), A Moran (0-1), A Gallagher.
Subs used: S O’Shea for Gallagher 55 mins; F Boland for O’Connor 61 mins; C Loftus (0-3, 3fs) for McLoughlin 61 mins; S Akram for Drake 66 mins; D Kirby for Doherty 71 mins.
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon).