WHEN the lights eventually went out we struggled to make sense of it all.
A performance full of contradictions had us groping for explanations. For while Dublin seemed always in control, they might not have won if Mayo had not lost their scoring touch.
We had watched Dublin break from the stalls like bats from hell and Paul Mannion stick the ball in the net. O’Callaghan in the All-Ireland came to mind. There we go again.
Dublin commenced to toy with Mayo, attacking from all angles in numbers . . . like ants in a colony. They pitched the ball about instinctively and scored freely. Only on one further occasion, however, did they pierce the fullback line to test Rob Hennelly’s reactions and he was to it. Yes, Rob Hennelly, back between the posts and performing well.
Mayo’s scores were harder earned, one to Dublin’s two most of the time but eked out purposefully and with great heart. Yet Dublin were in no obvious distress. Ever comfortable on the ball, easing their way along with that chilling mastery they have acquired.
They had added Dean Rock to the team before the game, and he cornered his quota of scores mostly from frees. Kevin McManamon also started. And when Diarmuid Connolly, Cian O’Sullivan and Paddy Small entered the fray after the break they were close to All-Ireland strength.
Mayo had Lee Keegan back . . . added to the team in place of Jason Gibbons, but standing in at full-back, efficient and massively influential. Nine of their All-Ireland starting team were absent. The imbalance was critical and Dublin played as if to drive home their dominance and excise the word Mayo from their minds forever.
By half-time, five points separated them. High ball to the inside line didn’t work too well, so for the most part Mayo spread it, and while not as efficient at it, they managed enough breaks through the lines to hold Dublin’s lead to five points . . . 1-9/0-7.
The second half was barely underway when Adam Gallagher must have cursed his luck for missing a golden opportunity to close the gap to two points. And in a climate of scarce openings it was annoying to see Keegan and Jason Doherty miss from easy range.
Designated free-taker in the absence of the suspended Cillian O’Connor, Doherty, one of Mayo’s hardest working forwards, chose to take frees from his hands and must have regretted the wastage incurred.
Then in the 42nd minute Dublin widened the gap. Niall Scully got highest to a dropping ball that should have been fisted out, but instead was fisted into the net. Done and dusted we thought.
You gasped to see the Dublin half inhabited only by ‘keeper Cluxton. They were six ahead, all up in the Mayo half forcing the issue, tossing the ball to the wings, Mayo always brave, but ragged and shapeless, their passes falling short, their chances of a win dwindling by the minute. No hope really.
That’s how it seemed in the 51st minute with Mayo trailing by seven points. Then Jason balloons wide from distance as Mayo begin to force Dublin to foul. Andy takes over the free-taking, with no better result.
Mayo bring in Conor Loftus and entrust him with the frees, and the Crossmolina man obliges with three in a row, all dead ball situations.
It ends as predicted. But our notes reveal the resilience of Mayo’s resistance. Two scores, one of them the goal, summed up Dublin’s harvest in the second half. Mayo reaped a return of five points from frees . . . and what might have been.
A gutsy performance then by everyone. The return of Keegan, and in the second half Seamie O’Shea, is better news. But they still nestle near the bottom.