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Dublin pile on Mayo misery

 Dublin players celebrate after their one-point win over Mayo in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC final replay at Croke Park. Picture by Hugh Russell
Andy Watters

ALL-IRELAND SFC FINAL REPLAY: Dublin 1-15 Mayo 1-14

LET’S get one thing straight from the start: Dublin won the All-Ireland, Mayo didn’t lose it.

Yes, the westerners missed a late free that might well have forced extra-time and the losses of Lee Keegan, to a black card, and Donal Vaughan, to concussion, were hammer blows.

But the best teams get over setbacks and Dublin are, without a shadow of a doubt, the best there is.

Jim Gavin’s men confirmed their status among the great sides of the game by completing back-to-back All-Irelands with a committed display that owed as much to lion-hearted defending as attacking élan.

Of course it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for luckless Mayo.

They can’t be faulted for effort, dedication or heart but their panel is limited and they continually find new ways to shoot themselves in the foot when it really matters.

Although they created the best moment of the game when Keegan buried a shot past Stephen Cluxton in the first half, the westerners were over-reliant on Cillian O’Connor frees to stay in touch in the second and the pressure proved too much in the end.

Deep in injury-time O’Connor stood in front of Hill 16 and took a free that would have levelled the game. His miss summed Mayo up: Close, but not close enough. Good, but not good enough.

The Mayo management have to take a share of the blame too because their decision to replace Allstar-elect goalkeeper David Clarke with Rob Hennelly may have made sense theoretically, but it backfired on Saturday.

Hennelly’s nervy restarts and a second half fumble led to 1-3 for the Dubs and Keegan’s dismissal – in a game of fine margins they couldn’t afford that.

Meanwhile, Dublin manager Jim Gavin made three changes from the drawn game and they all had an impact.

Michael Fitzsimons was superb in defence while Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley came on for the last 20 minutes and pushed the Dubs over the line alongside talented youngster Cormac Costello, who scored three points from play in a superb cameo.

Gavin has aces up his sleeve and what Mayo wouldn’t give for such strength-in-depth? With Aidan O’Shea again a peripheral figure, the best Stephen Rochford could come up with was Conor O’Shea and 35-year-old Alan Dillon who did what they could but it wasn’t enough.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see Dillon again and there’ll be question marks over the likes of Keith Higgins and Andy Moran too.

How long can they keep soldiering on when season after season ends with gut-wrenching disappointment? Mayo began with the optimism and confidence of a side that had pushed Dublin all the way a fortnight before and Tom Parsons, who had opened the scoring in the draw, sent the first chance of the match wide.

James McCarthy did likewise but there was early intensity and urgency to Dublin’s play that was missing in the drawn final. With Hennelly unable to find a green and red shirt from kick-outs, Kevin McManamon, whose direct running caused the Mayo defence to cough up free after free, was fouled presenting Dean Rock with a simple opener to settle his nerves.

Pumped up ‘Deano’ added another from play and gave Higgins a shove as he celebrated. McManamon added another from a tight angle and then turned provider for Rock who opted to fist the ball over the bar instead of going for goal against the exposed Hennelly.

That score meant the Dubs were four up after five minutes and looking in total control but wing-back Patrick Durcan popped up to get Mayo going with a fine finish and the westerners forced their way into the game.

John Small fumbled Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out and then brought down Andy Moran as he looked to capitalise.

O’Connor tapped over the free and added another after Small fouled Moran again. When Moran gave Cian O’Sullivan the slip and scored it was 0-4 apiece after 12 actionpacked minutes.

Another Rock free edged the Dubs ahead once more but Mayo’s defensive line held firm as Ciaran Kilkenny and then Brian Fenton were halted and turned.

Rock landed his fifth score of the half with another free but then Mayo raced ahead with the best move of the match. It was Aidan O’Shea’s only major contribution.

The Breaffy clubman found a grey area between markers Cian O’Sullivan and Philly McMahon and broke for a ball from defence. He got there before O’Sullivan, turned him and charged for the Dublin posts.

Keegan raced up in support on his right and when O’Shea played him in he drilled a low shot into the corner of Cluxton’s net to send Mayo ahead for the first time. Dublin lost Jonny Cooper to a black card and the free-flowing encounter became a physical battle as the sides wrestled for supremacy.

Fouls on McManamon enabled Rock to level and then put the Dubs back in the lead but Mayo got back on terms after Fenton took down Colm Boyle. Diarmuid Connolly’s point was roared over the bar by the blue horde on the Hill and Mayo’s hari-kari habit resurfaced when McManamon got a hand to Hennelly’s nervy restart to send Connolly through again.

Keegan panicked and took him down, Deegan flashed another black card and Keegan walked. Rock and O’Connor swapped frees and the Dubs went in a point up at the break.

The loss of Keegan didn’t have its expected impact early in the second half and the O’Connor brothers (Cillian with a free and Diarmuid from play) sent Mayo ahead. The dependable Rock levelled and then Mayo pressed that trusty self-destruct button again.

Paul Flynn’s shot dropped short and Hennelly’s positioning was poor as he went to catch it, he fumbled and the ball broke to Paddy Andrews.

Hennelly took man, then ball, as he dived to atone for his error. Deegan awarded a penalty and Hennelly was black-carded.

Clarke replaced him and his first duty was to fetch the ball out of his net after Connolly buried the spot kick. Mayo cursed their luck but refused to yield and O’Connor’s free and a point from the excellent Kevin McLoughlin brought them back to within one.

Dublin responded by unleashing match-winners Brogan, Macauley and Costello from the bench and they energised the Dubs as Mayo began to feel the pace.

Dublin’s kick-passing was superb and they stretched Mayo with long, raking passes.

Brogan scored and though his effort was cancelled out by Durcan’s second of the game, Costello made a name for himself with points from his first two touches to leave it 1-14 to 1-11. Still Mayo kept fighting and two more O’Connor frees left one in it.

Conor O’Shea could have levelled it but his shot fell short and Macauley did the spadework for Costello’s third with the game in injury-time. In the gathering gloom, Mayo summoned up the spirit for another attack and Costello’s foul on Durcan presented O’Connor with the chance to force extratime.

He glanced at the posts as the Hill bayed for him to bottle it.

One, two, three steps and he let fly with his right boot and the ball went curling wide. Dublin held out to the final whistle to take the win they deserved and O’Connor was consoled by Davy Byrne as he trudged off the field – another chapter in the Mayo book of hard luck stories.

But Dublin won this final, Mayo didn’t lose it.

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