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Mayo fight to live another day

Semi Final action picUP AND AWAY 
Mayo’s Aidan Higgins fists a crucial point as Dublin’s Coman Goggins and Bryan Cullen close in last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

Mayo fight to live for another day

SEMI FINAL - Bank of ireland All-Ireland Senior Championship

Mayo     1-16
Dublin   2-12

Mike Finnerty
Croke Park

THERE is a moment in every team’s life when there is a choice to be made. Fight or flight? It is that simple.
That moment arrived for Mayo last Sunday, eleven minutes into the second half of one of the greatest games of Gaelic football in living memory.
Picture the scene. The rampaging Conal Keaney has just barrelled through to fist Dublin into a 2-11 to 0-10 lead. The partisan home crowd are in full voice; their team has just rattled off 1-6 since half-time and conceded only one point in reply.
Dublin are seven points up and look like they’re about to cut loose. All Mayo’s first half industry, endeavour and excellence has been completely wiped out and their over-worked defence is coming apart at the seams.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, their totemic midfielder, Ronan McGarrity had been forced out of the game during the first half with concussion.
As David Clarke retrieved the ball after Keaney’s point, Team Mayo had a decision to make. They could fold there and then or they could dig in and lift the siege. In truth, they took the path less travelled by Mayo teams in games of this magnitude. They set about clawing back the deficit. And they did it brilliantly.
Incredible is probably the only word that comes close to describing the events that unfolded in the final 27 minutes in front of 82,148 enthralled spectators.
It goes some way to capturing the physical and mental strength that Mayo showed to turn their fortunes around. Make no mistake, they would not have won this game without the inspiration of David Heaney and David Brady, the perspiration of Alan Dillon and Ger Brady, and the sheer class and quality of Kevin O’Neill and Ciaran McDonald, surely two of the most intelligent and undervalued footballers that this county has ever produced.
Mickey Moran, John Morrison and Kieran Gallagher also played their part; the introduction of Kevin O’Neill late in the first half was a masterstroke while Aidan Kilcoyne, David Brady and Andy Moran all arrived in the midst of Mayo’s crisis and played integral roles in the team’s renaissance.
During that final 27 minute period Mayo, ironically, outscored their opponents by 1-6 to 0-1. They played football that was a joy to watch; all pace and movement with quick hands and foot-passing of the highest order. And they shot the lights out.
Ger Brady gave Bryan Cullen an uncomfortable day and it was his uplifting point in the 47th minute that signalled the beginning of the end for Dublin.
Alan Dillon chipped in with a similar score moments later before the game-breaking goal arrived in the 51st minute.
Its conception was sublime, Kevin O’Neill carving open the Dublin defence with a sweetly-struck pass and finding make-shift wing-back Andy Moran in an advanced position. He was bumped, he turned, and then stabbed the ball past Stephen Cluxton. The Hill was stunned into silence and the margin was sliced to two points.
That moment was the cue for Mayo to cast off the shackles of doubt and uncertainty. Instead it was Dublin that seemed paralysed by the verve and vigour of Mayo’s revival.
More neat inter-play involving David Brady, Aidan Kilcoyne and Alan Dillon ended with the mercurial Kevin O’Neill nailing a beautiful point from the left wing before the flawless Dillon lobbed over the equaliser in the 54th minute. It was as good a seven minutes of football that Mayo have ever produced and yielded 1-4. And they weren’t finished.
David Brady’s arrival into midfield had given Mayo an anchor; the 32 year old Stephenite strutted around that sector like a General and never gave an inch to an opponent.
His brother, Ger, also seemed to benefit from David’s arrival and it was a foul on the centre-forward which allowed Conor Mortimer to smack over the lead score from a free in the 56th minute.
Mayo were defending tigerishly while Pat Harte’s fielding and link-play, Peadar Gardiner’s darting breaks, and Aidan Kilcoyne’s selfless running and energy had Dublin on the backfoot.
However, it looked like Paul Caffrey’s team had earned a draw when the outstanding Alan Brogan sprinted clear of Mayo’s defence and levelled the match for the seventh time with a left-footed point on the run.
But Mayo were about to seize the day. The match-winning move began with a classic piece of high-fielding from Pat Harte and, fittingly, ended with Kevin O’Neill and Ciaran McDonald linking up on the left wing of Mayo’s attack.
McDonald’s audacious attempt for a point was struck straight and true, sailing between the posts for the winner. There were 68 minutes gone.
The Leinster champions still had time to salvage something but Mark Vaughan’s free-taking was off kilter, and a brave block by Keith Higgins denied Jason Sherlock a late levelling score.
But there was no disputing the merits of Mayo’s victory. They played the majority of the good football in the first half and started in whirlwind fashion.
By the 19th minute they were 0-5 to 0-1 ahead and cruising. Conor Mortimer, who moved like a fish all afternoon, curled over the opening score confidently before Ciaran McDonald brought supporters to their feet with an inspirational point from a line-ball on the left wing.
Alan Dillon’s current rude health showed no sign of abating either; he flicked one point and kicked another before Ger Brady availed of selfless work from Mortimer to bend over Mayo’s fifth score.
In keeping with the incredulous nature of what was to follow, Dublin were on level terms only four minutes after Brady’s point. First, Ray Cosgrove nicked a score before Conal Keaney goaled from close-range after David Clarke had saved smartly from Alan Brogan.
Dublin were transformed after that goal and could have had another had Jason Sherlock’s close range shot not been pushed onto the crossbar by Clarke. Still, points from the highly-effective Keaney, Cosgrove and Quinn (’45) had them in front by the minimum (1-5 to 0-7) heading into first half injury-time.
Mayo needed a little something to reward their endeavours and it came when sub’ Kevin O’Neill split the posts with his first possession before Conor Mortimer landed a spectacular score to send them in one up.
They looked back just once in the second half, just long enough to make up their mind about where they were going. They will know more after events unfold on Sunday, September 17.

D Clarke; D Geraghty, D Heaney, K Higgins; A Higgins (0-1), J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity, P Harte; B Padden, G Brady (0-2), A Dillon (0-4); C Mortimer (0-5, 1f), C McDonald (0-2, 1 s/l), M Conroy. Subs used: K O’Neill (0-2) for Conroy; B Moran for McGarrity (inj); D Brady for B Moran; A Kilcoyne for Padden; A Moran (1-0) for J Nallen.
S Cluxton; D Henry, B Cahill, P Griffin; P Casey, B Cullen, C Goggins; C Whelan, S Ryan; C Keaney (1-3), A Brogan (0-4), R Cosgrove (0-2); J Sherlock (1-0), K Bonner (0-1), T Quinn (0-2, 1f, 1’45). Subs used: D Magee for B Cahill; D Lally for Ryan; C Moran for Bonner; S Connell for Cosgrove; M Vaughan for Quinn.

Referee: P Russell (Tipperary)

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