SKYSCRAPERS Mayo’s Seamus O’Shea contests possession with Dublin’s Brian Fenton during the All-Ireland SFC Final replay last Saturday. Pic: Sportsfile
MAYO’S dreams of winning the county’s first All-Ireland senior title in 65 years were dashed in Saturday evening’s dramatic replay at Croke Park.
Defending champions Dublin put back-to-back championships together for the first time since 1977 as they edged out Mayo by single point after another breathless encounter.
On a day when Mayo lost both Lee Keegan and Rob Hennelly to black cards, and a second half penalty from Diarmuid Connolly proved to be a decisive moment, this group of players once more spared nothing in pursuit of victory.
The defence was heroic for the second time in thirteen days, holding four of Dublin’s starting six forward scoreless from play. All over the field Mayo players worked, harried, chased and turned ball over time and again, and they pushed Dublin to the brink yet again.
But in the end it came down to scores on the board, and the contribution of impact sub Cormac Costello for the champions ultimately tipped the scales in Dublin’s favour.
His points in the 58th, 59th and 71st minutes did huge damage to Mayo, keeping Dublin in the lead and holding the chasing pack at arm’s length.
In contrast, Mayo’s only scores in the last 20 minutes were three frees from captain Cillian O’Connor as Dublin manned the barricades and defended Mayo’s runners en bloc.
Mayo did have one late chance to grab an equaliser and force the game to extra-time, but O’Connor, who scored nine points from frees in total, saw his 35 yard kick into Hill 16 tail left and wide.
The final whistle brought stunned silence from the thousands of Mayo fans in the stadium while Dublin and their supporters celebrated a famous and deserved victory.
A frenetic match got off to a sensational start with the news that Mayo had dropped goalkeeper David Clarke and recalled Rob Hennelly for his first start since the defeat to Galway back in June.
The game itself began in a welter of excitement as Dublin came flying out of the blocks and were four points to no score up after six minutes with three points from Dean Rock and one from Kevin McManamon giving the favourites a dream start.
But Mayo drew level within six minutes as Paddy Durcan and Andy Moran landed superb points either side of two Cillian O’Connor frees.
From there to the finish it was helter-skelter, neck and neck, with enough big hits and off-the-ball skirmishes to keep all the officials on their toes.
Dublin were running hard at the Mayo backline and won a couple of frees that were converted by Dean Rock to leave it 0-6 to 0-4 after 16 minutes.
By that stage the game was taking shape, and it was every bit as fast and furious as we had expected.
The ground erupted on 18 minutes when Lee Keegan came flying through the Dublin defence to take a pass from Aidan O’Shea before smacking the ball low and hard past Stephen Cluxton for the first goal of the game.
Mayo were ahead for the first time, and their thousands of fans in the crowd of 82,249 were in full voice.
Shortly afterwards Dublin had Jonny Cooper black carded for a trip on Donie Vaughan, and from there to half-time the intensity was racheted up even further.
Dublin outscored Mayo in the second quarter by 0-4 to 0-2 as Kevin McManamon’s direct style continued to draw frees and Dean Rock knocked over three points at his leisure.
One of these came in the 36th minute after Lee Keegan was shown a black card by referee Maurice Deegan for what was deemed a deliberate pulldown of Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly — following a short kick-out from Rob Hennelly that hadn’t found his man.
When the half-time whistle sounded, Dublin led by 0-10 to 1-6 and it was anybody’s game.
Just like the drawn game, Mayo started the second half like they meant business and a fifth free of the day from Cillian O’Connor was quickly followed by a brilliant point from his brother, Diarmuid, to ease Mayo ahead for the second time.
The lead lasted less than sixty seconds as Dean Rock replied with a free, and we settled in for another nail-biting episode.
On 41 minutes came another watershed moment as Rob Hennelly came from his goal to claim a diagonal delivery from Paul Flynn, but he spilled the ball and ended up taking down Paddy Andrews as a consequence.
Cue a black card for the Mayo keeper and a penalty from Dublin — which Diarmuid Connolly buried into the bottom corner past David Clarke.
Dublin led 1-11 to 1-8 and it was a very different ball game.
As always, Mayo responded in a positive fashion with a free from Cillian O’Connor and a neat score from Kevin McLoughlin to close the gap to the minimum.
Dublin sub’ Bernard Brogan and Mayo’s Paddy Durcan then traded points to maintain the status quo with 21 minutes remaining.
Mayo were a point behind and chasing hard.
Remarkably, for all the chances and near misses at either end, the teams shared six points evenly between them during that time.
Cormac Costello arrived in off the bench to land three crucial points from play for Dublin, and Cillian O’Connor potted three frees.
But try as they might, Mayo couldn’t dig out the equaliser they so badly wanted and needed.
The likes of Brendan Harrison and Paddy Durcan delivered their finest performances of the summer, while Seamie O’Shea had possibly his most impressive game ever in a Mayo shirt.
And all around the field everybody did their best and gave their all.
So another memorable summer ends for Mayo in desperate disappointment, after nine matches and a performance on Saturday that underlined the team’s resilience and courage in the face of adversity.
It wasn’t meant to be, but Mayo can be proud of their efforts.
S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, P Flynn; D Connolly (1-1, 1-0pen), K McManamon (0-1), D Kilkenny; P Mannion, D Rock (0-9, 7fs), P Andrews.
Subs used: D Byrne for Cooper (20 b/c), B Brogan (0-1) for Andrews (47), MD Macauley for Mannion (52), C Costello (0-3) for McManamon (56), E Lowndes for Small (60), D Daly for O’Sullivan (72).
R Hennelly, B Harrison, D Vaughan, K Higgins; L Keegan (1-0), C Boyle, P Durcan (0-2); S O Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin (0-1), A O’Shea, D O’Connor (0-1); J Doherty, A Moran (0-1), C O’Connor (0-9, 9fs).
Subs used: S Coen for Keegan (35 b/c), C O’Shea for Vaughan (ht), D Clarke for Hennelly (41b/c), B Moran for A Moran (55), A Dillon for Doherty (60), C Barrett for Boyle (71).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)