Goals make difference as Dublin power home
THE months ahead will reveal exactly how relevant and important this latest Mayo reversal at Croke Park was in the context of Championship 2013, but this performance certainly threw up enough talking points to keep us occupied between now and May 19.
James Horan described this league semi-final as a ‘crazy’ game and it certainly wasn’t your conventional, run-of-the-mill affair as Mayo maintained their recent habit of mixing the good, bad and indifferent in the same 70-minute cameo.
They were undone on the scoreboard by two Dublin goals in the space of two minutes in the first quarter, but the truth is that other, more pressing issues were also exposed during the course of the afternoon.
Mayo badly missed their absent and injured contingent, as Keith Higgins, Barry Moran, Alan Dillon and Andy Moran all watched from the wings, along with Danny Geraghty, Cathal Freeman, Tom Cunniffe and Alan Freeman.
Dublin made their superior strength-in-depth, fitness and general well-being count, recovering from a slow start to rack up 2-9 (all but one point from play) in the space of twenty blistering minutes in the first half.
Mayo responded with just two points of their own during that spell and by the time Dublin took their foot off the accelerator they were ten points clear.
By that stage, Mayo’s three point lead after ten minutes, achieved courtesy of Donal Vaughan’s strong running and points from Cillian O’Connor (2 frees), plus a well-taken score from Cathal Carolan, seemed a very distant memory.
The game was less than fifteen minutes old when Dublin proceeded to take control of midfield and cut Mayo’s defence to shreds.
Michael Dara McAuley, Cian O’Sullivan, Ger Brennan and Paul Flynn were the main protagonists as Dublin won the kick-out contest 18-10 in the opening half.
They wiped out Mayo’s early advantage on 13 minutes when the pacy Paul Mannion brushed past Kevin Keane along the endline and rifled a shot past David Clarke.
Diarmuid Connolly, who was given far too much latitude by Lee Keegan in that opening half, then curled over the lead score before Dublin struck for their second goal.
The clock showed 15 minutes when Kevin McLoughlin made an uncharacteristic error, sending a stray handpass to Ger Brennan, and seconds later the inexperienced Jason Whelan was hammering the ball past Clarke again.
In the fifteen minutes that followed Dublin were awesome, tagging on eight points and giving an exhibition of pace, power and finishing.
Mayo mustered just two points at the other end, including a solo effort from the excellent Michael Conroy, but a 2-9 to 0-5 deficit on 31 minutes told its own story.
As is their wont, Mayo rallied just as quickly as they had faded and three points on the bounce in as many minutes from Conroy, Cillian O’Connor and Jason Gibbons narrowed the margin to more manageable proportions by the break.
However, only the most optimistic and naïve of Mayo supporters would have felt there was a way back, especially given the team’s recent goalscoring drought and Dublin’s range of firepower and options on the bench.
Sure enough, Mayo fought the good fight in the second half, restoring Aidan O’Shea to his rightful place at midfield and outscoring the winners by 0-8 to 0-7.
By and large though the exchanges had a challenge game feel to them during that period; Mayo never getting any closer than six points, and Dublin always giving as good as they were getting.
Stephen Cluxton had denied Jason Doherty and Donal Vaughan when goals threatened in the first half and he also frustrated Cillian O’Connor and Vaughan again later in the day.
At the other end only the brilliance of David Clarke prevented Bernard Brogan and Dublin from surging even further ahead, while Ger Cafferkey and Vaughan also manned the defences as best they could.
Mickey Conroy was Mayo’s best forward again and his third point from play was just reward for a hard shift while Aidan O’Shea underlined his midfield credentials with a couple of superb scores from distance.
James Horan threw Michael Walsh and Alan Murphy in at the deep end for their league debuts and also gave Brian Gallagher his second run at centre-forward. In the circumstances, making an impact was easier said than done.
Mayo now have less than five weeks until they must put what they have learned this spring into practice.
There is no time to be wasted.
S Cluxton (0-1, 1f); K O'Brien, J Cooper, P McMahon; J McCaffrey (0-1), G Brennan, D Daly; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; J Whelan (1-1), D Connolly (0-3), P Flynn; P Mannion (1-4, 1f), P Andrews, B Brogan (0-5, 1f).
Subs used: N Devereux for Daly (47); D Bastick for O'Sullivan (50); B Cullen for Flynn (54); K McManamon for Connolly (55); M Fitzsimons for Cooper (65).
D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; D Vaughan, L Keegan, C Boyle; J Gibbons (0-1), S O'Shea; K McLoughlin (0-1, 1f), A O'Shea (0-2), C Carolan (0-1); C O'Connor, J Doherty, M Conroy (0-3).
Subs used: R Feeney for Doherty (h-t); B Gallagher for Gibbons (44); M Walsh for Keane (45); A Murphy for Carolan (55); E Regan for McLoughlin (65).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)