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Frantic semi-final duel will be watched again and again

Dublin's Philip McMahon and Mayo's Aidan O'Shea get to grips with one another during Sunday's All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final at Croke Park
Picture: Colm O'Reilly 
Kenny Archer at Croke Park

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final: Dublin 2-12 Mayo 1-15

AFTER that finish, it’s hard to know where to start in assessing this dramatic draw. Dublin seemed to be certain victors with just over an hour played, but Mayo came roaring back to force a replay at headquarters this Saturday evening. 

There were two penalties, two black cards, an off-the-ball red card, a dubious point, allegations of a head-butt and apparent play-acting in an attempt to get an opponent sent-off. Factor in a series of misses by both sides and this is a game that will reward repeated replays – even if the actual action was far from the highest quality. After watching this game again and again, opinions will still continue to be divided.

You can be sure of little after this enthralling battle except Mayo’s incredible desire to win ‘Sam’ and end their 64-year wait. It’s the Connacht champions’ second semi-final replay in consecutive seasons as they aim to reach their third final in four seasons.

Astonishingly, the teams were only level twice – before the opening score in the first minute and then in the five minutes of added time at the end after substitute Andy Moran’s 70th minute equaliser.

Having been seven up with just over seven minutes of normal time to go, the Dubs were almost left with the bitter taste of defeat – but then could have won it except for captain and goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton missing his third free of the game. Diarmuid Connolly was shaping up to take that free, but instead had to leave the pitch, shown a straight red card after he and Lee Keegan clashed off the ball and then wrestled on the ground. The latter only received a yellow for his part in that incident, which is sure to be one of many analysed and discussed, perhaps not least by the GAA authorities.

Dublin may complain about the Mayo penalty, which Cillian O’Connor converted with impressive confidence in the 68th minute, awarded after the forceful Colm Boyle went down after colliding with several opponents.

Yet the Sky Blues’ image was certainly tinged with a darker shade on Sunday, losing two players to black cards and conceding a series of fouls.

Of greater concern, Aidan O’Shea alleged he had been head-butted by Philly McMahon, apparently in an incident in the 42nd minute that led to a scuffle involving several players. The big Mayo number 11 also clashed with his marker McMahon 20 minutes into the second period, when the Ballymun man appeared to make the most of their contact, going down holding his face.

Dublin substitute Alan Brogan was certainly bashed about his left eye in the closing moments, needing an ice pack applied, as tempers boiled over in a frantic finale.

Cillian O’Connor punished plenty of Dublin’s fouls, scoring from eight frees, but it was the lack of scores of play for much of this match that seemed set to cost the westerners dearly.

Mayo began brightly, with Keegan kicking a point from play in the opening minute, but they went the rest of the half, and indeed until the fourth minute of the second period, without adding such a score.

In contrast, all but one of Dublin’s 12 points came from play, with their only successful free coming from Connolly midway through the second half. The St Vincent’s man opened their account from the penalty spot in the fifth minute after Jason Doherty tugged on Paul Flynn’s right arm as he raced towards goal.

Dublin then began to score freely from play, quickly extending their lead to five, although there were questions afterwards if Bernard Brogan’s 14th minute point was actually wide. There was no doubt, though, that Ciarán Kilkenny was proving too hot to handle for early sub Patrick Durcan, taking him for three points after injury forced off Donal Vaughan.

The Dubs had lost their number three, Rory O’Carroll even before that, to a head wound, although it was McMahon handed the task of taming Mayo talisman and target man Aidan O’Shea. The Breaffy beast put in a huge effort but did not get on the scoresheet himself and it was Mayo’s bench, plus their captain Keith Higgins, who eventually provided the scores that dragged them back to earn a second shot at the Dubs.

Some of the work was done before then, mostly by Cillian O’Connor’s free-taking accuracy, which brought the score to 1-8 to 0-10 10 minutes into the second half. Indeed, former skipper Andy Moran could have levelled matters long before he did, but shot badly short as the game entered the final quarter, moments after Diarmuid O’Connor fisted wide, and the Dubs appeared to punish those failures irreparably.

Connolly converted that aforementioned free and Moran then fired a wide, and the Dubs seemed to take complete charge as the game went crazy. McMahon and Aidan O’Shea collided, with Paul Flynn arguing that the Mayo man should be sent off, although he appeared more sinned against than sinning.

Jack McCaffrey then embarked on a lightning burst at the heart of the Mayo defence and although the shot was blocked by goalkeeper Rob Hennelly, the loose ball was coolly stroked to the net by substitute Kevin McManamon. Dublin were on fire all of a sudden and rapid points by both Brogans, Bernard and Alan, and that man McCaffrey, had them well clear, 2-12 to 0-11.

However, Andy Moran did then spark Mayo’s amazing revival with a good point, although, after Higgins reduced the gap further, Moran might have done much more. The Ballaghaderreen man blocked the ball as Cluxton got cocky trying to clear the ball way out of his goal, but the Mayo forward tried to find the net himself rather than passing to a better-placed colleague and John Small was able to keep out the shot diving on his goal-line.

Yet Mayo refused to accept defeat, with Alan Freeman pointing, then Boyle racing forward to win the penalty, before they seized on a poor kick-out to set up Moran for their leveller. There were still more than five minutes of added time, but no more scores, only that Connolly red card as Dublin ended up playing keep-ball deep in their own half.

Both sides will be glad to have a second chance, but they will be worrying too about the CCCC taking a second look at the video.

 

MATCH STATS
Dublin: S Cluxton (capt.); J Cooper, R O’Carroll, P McMahon; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J McCaffrey (0-1); B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, C Kilkenny (0-3), D Connolly (1-2, 1-0 penalty, 0-1 free); 
D Rock, P Andrews (0-2), B Brogan (0-2); Substitutes: K McManamon (1-1) for Rock (h-t); J Small for Cooper (43); D Bastick for Macauley (black, 51); A Brogan (0-1) for Andrews (54); T Brady for Fenton (58); E Lowndes for Bastick (black, 68); Blood sub: M Fitzsimons for O’Carroll (4-end); Yellow cards: Cooper (17); McCarthy (37, first half); O’Sullivan (43); Black cards: Macauley (51); Bastick (66); Red card: Connolly (74).
Mayo: R Hennelly; G Cafferkey, D Vaughan, K Higgins (capt.) (0-1); L Keegan (0-1), C Barrett, C Boyle; S O’Shea, T Parsons; D O’Connor (0-1), A O’Shea, K McLoughlin; D Drake, C O’Connor (1-9, 0-8 frees, 0-1 ‘45’, 1-0 penalty), J Doherty; Substitutes: P Durcan for Vaughan (10, inj.); A Moran (0-2) for Drake (45); A Freeman (0-1) for Doherty (61); B Moran for S O’Shea (66); M Sweeney for D O’Connor (70); Yellow cards: Parsons (6); McLoughlin (42); Keegan (74).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).

 

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