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Mayo go to the brink - and then come back again

Andy Moran celebrates scoring the point that drew Mayo level with Dublin in Sunday's All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final at Croke Park
Picture: Colm O'Reilly 
Andy Watters at Croke Park

MAYO are making a habit of this – by God, they put their fans through hell. 

Mind you, you could say exactly the same about Dublin; after all, they let a seven-point lead slip on Sunday and, even then, their skipper Stephen Cluxton had a straightforward free that would have sent them into the final. The final 10 minutes were cover-your-eyes, shake-your-head and pull-your-hair-out stuff and the sides will have another crack at it on Saturday evening, when a repeat of last year’s Mayo-Kerry replay, which went to extra-time, could be on the cards. 

But before we get to that, the repercussions from Sunday have to be dealt with. Dublin’s Philly McMahon could face disciplinary action for an alleged headbutt on Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and could miss the game (and the final if he gets a two-match ban for a category four offence). Diarmuid Connolly, red-carded for striking Lee Keegan, could also miss out, as could Keegan, who retaliated, while Mayo defender Donal Vaughan is rated “very doubtful” with a shoulder injury.  

Sparks flew from the throw-in. Dublin manager Jim Gavin said the game was “up there” with the most physical encounters he’s ever been involved in, but who has the psychological edge for the replay? Both sides have, sort of, according to their managers. 

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“Maybe,” said Mayo joint manager Noel Connelly when asked if his side’s comeback meant momentum was on their side. 

“The boys in the dressing room right now are very upbeat and the way that they worked to come back and draw the game. But I don’t think anybody has an advantage at this point coming into next week. 

“We need to focus now again on, first and foremost, our recovery. Then focus later in the week towards getting geared up for the 70 minutes again. I don’t think there’s any advantage at this moment in time. Everybody knows the Dubs will still be favourites to win the Championship outright, this won’t change it this evening I’m sure. 

“But at the same time we will have learned a lot. We know the momentum and style that they play and always bring to every game. It will be no less next weekend.” 

Meanwhile, Dublin boss Jim Gavin said: “I think we’re in a strong position. 

“Mayo are a top-class side and I thought they played very well in patches out there today. We’ll just go on and try to be the best we can be. If that’s good enough, we might put ourselves in with a chance to win the game.”

Gavin admitted he felt his side had done enough to make the final after they went seven points ahead with less than 10 minutes of normal time to go.

“We were delighted to have been in that position for the last quarter, but Mayo are one of the top teams in the country and they came back well,” he said.

“We were a man down, I thought we rallied hard, showed good composure, took some great scoring opportunities, had some frees, didn’t take them… That’s the nature of the game, I think we only had 1-1 from frees in the end. That’s one area to work on.

“Mayo played well, they came at us hard, got a couple of frees, couple of scores and it was an exciting game. There was a lot of errors in it.

“For our part, the game will do us a world of good, we haven’t experienced that intensity all season, it was four weeks since our last game and we will be the better team for it the next day.”

Cluxton, the hero with the winning free when the Dubs beat Kerry in 2011, missed an easier kick that would almost certainly have won the game on Sunday. Gavin has backed the experienced goalkeeper to recover from the miss. 

“I thought it was well within his range,” he said. 

“He’ll be back. He’s very strong mentally and, if the opportunity arises again, I’m sure he’ll step up and take it the next day.”

Gavin said he hadn’t seen the incident that led to a straight red card for Connolly, but it’s likely that the Dubs will seek a hearing to overturn referee Joe McQuillan’s decision. 

“I’ll have to have a look at it,” he said. 

“It would be very unfair of me to comment. Joe made the decision based on whatever information he received. He made that call, as he did for the black cards and some other cards that might not have been given. We’ll have to have a look at all those.”

Meanwhile, Mayo joint manager Connelly said he was delighted with the character of his side –they looked dead and buried when Jack McCaffrey pointed to put Dublin 2-12 to 0-11 ahead in the 61st minute.

“We were delighted with that, with the character of the team,” he said. 

“Maybe, in days gone by, a seven-point deficit with 12 minutes to go may have been too much, but the lads showed great determination throughout the field.

“They pressed on and it gave us a bit of momentum again. We were on top at the end and unlucky maybe not to get another chance or two before the end. We look at it as half-time now and we have to prepare well again for next Saturday.”

Aidan O’Shea won three frees for his side and claimed after the game to have been headbutted by McMahon. Connelly feels the Breaffy behemoth doesn’t always get justice from referees.

“I don’t like going on about the way that Aido maybe gets tackled at times,” said Connelly. 

“Other players maybe smaller in stature and being marked the same way he is, would be getting frees in my mind. But, look, every referee goes out to do his best and I’m sure Joe did his best there overall and whoever takes the replay next week I am sure will do a good job also.

“It’s something we brought to the attention of the linesman on a couple of occasions.”

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