Dublin keep the keys to heaven as Mayo challenge falters
2020 All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 2-14 Mayo 0-15
STEPHEN Cluxton descends the Hogan Stand steps with the keys to heaven going jingle-jangle through his pocketful of medals. Mayo look at these men with eight All-Ireland medals and wonder what it is they have to do.
When the sun settles down in the morning dew out west, reality will hit. For so long, this threatened to be the day. Turned out, with the exception of Croke Park's emptiness, it was just the same as the others.
In particular, it turned out just like last year’s semi-final. A rip-roaring, all-action, inspiring, enthusing first half followed by a second period in which Dublin toyed with them.
They were level at 50 minutes and granted, it was a big decision by David Coldrick not to give Lee Keegan a tap-over free when he was emptied by Michael Fitzsimons in a tackle that looked a lot like Kevin McManamon’s infamous hit on Peter Crowley in 2016.
But throughout the second period, threads popped on the rope that held the entire venture up.
Dublin started the second half two points up and a man down. Robbie McDaid’s screen went too obviously wrong right on half-time, but Mayo’s tactical approach went equally awry on the restart.
Having taken Dessie Farrell’s team to the cliff with an in-their-face approach, James Horan went for safety. Playing against a growing breeze that became a greater factor the more Mayo tired, they opted to go with a full-time sweeper for those 10 minutes.
They won the period 0-3 to 0-2 but they were still behind when McDaid came back on, and it felt like a chance lost.
The identity of the fallen soldier only made it worse. Paddy Durcan’s quad injury was a secret they kept well for 35 minutes, given that he did a remarkably tight job on Ciaran Kilkenny, but the tell-tale sign was the fact he was at full-back at all.
Mayo’s defence seemed a bit arse-about-face, with Durcan and Keegan in the full-back line. But the defensive jobs they did, as well as Chris Barrett’s on Dean Rock, justified that end.
Where they lacked was in the punch from deep. Eoghan McLaughlin didn’t get into it and was out-thought by the elusive, ever-available Niall Scully. Stephen Coen is more of a natural stopper, even though he did get up to score a mark.
Their best outlet was Oisin Mullin, who led their typically forthright recovery to the fastest ever goal in an All-Ireland final. James McCarthy won the throw in and Mayo paid for putting Aidan O’Shea in there on it. He couldn’t catch the Ballymun man, Barrett had to step across and Rock palmed into the net.
Twelve seconds had gone when the ball hit the rigging and a whole county put its head in its hands. But over the next 21 minutes, Mayo scored 0-8 to Dublin’s 0-3. They were inventive, they were fresh, they were lively and they were troublesome.
Dublin were having to do a bit of rearranging, most notably getting Eoin Murchan out on to Ryan O’Donoghue, whose link-play at eleven was one of the early keys.
Then the champions did what they do. You could almost see the change of mind from McCarthy as he architected a second goal. The point’s on and in the split second that Cillian O’Connor steps wrongly out, the goal’s on. They’ll always take the goal.
He finds Scully, Scully finds O’Callaghan, O’Callaghan finds the net. Mayo’s lead is wiped and they’d never get it back, level just once more.
O’Connor had six points to his name, two from play, inside 25 minutes but hooked a critical free wide. Tommy Conroy missed three chances in a nervy first final.
Every chance missed is magnified against Dublin, who punish so ruthlessly.
It undermined so much good Mayo work. They had won all 12 of their own kickouts and half of Dublin’s ten in the first half. Numbers unheard of. Possession so rare against this machine, but they will look at how much they made of that.
Mayo had been the better side and trailed by two.
But in the second half, it was clear who the better side actually was.
Dublin worked the game out. They took the energy out of Mayo legs by making them chase the ball. They played on their superior physicality in one-on-one battles, keeping the ball out of the gang-tackling.
It slowed to a far lesser pace. It was like watching the brainy over-30s in an exhibition use their heads and pass the death out of the young boys.
Look at how they even referee the game. When they need a free, they get a free. Mayo had three on the bounce to level at 0-14 to 2-8. Dublin attack, Niall Scully goes through the gap and is tugged back to Eoghan McLaughlin.
35 yards out, just left of centre, the capital of Dean Rock country. Scully has no interest in playing on. Stops dead. Whistle goes. Score.
Mayo seemed enthused at the water break, but their feet went from under them in the next seven minutes. Kilkenny, the hugely influential half-time sub Brian Howard, Paul Mannion and Dean Rock from frees pushed the gap to five.
Scully was outstanding, Howard had big moments, O’Callaghan and Kilkenny a few too, but the man that won the ball that needed won was Brian Fenton.
Diarmuid O’Connor had done such a good job breaking ball off him for so long but you can only climb on the shoulders of a giant for so long before he wakes up and fires you off.
Darren Coen had ball in hand four times towards the death and was lively enough to suggest than an earlier introduction might have revived Mayo’s attack, but he was also wasteful enough to say that it’s clutching at straws.
Continuously the country clutches at the idea that Dublin will give up the gates some day soon. You can get at them in the full-back line.
They haven’t conceded a championship goal in six games and haven’t looked like conceding one.
Six-in-a-row once seemed unfathomable. Now it seems depressingly normal and predictable. But for that, you can only give Dublin the biggest credit.
The legend grows, the empire recycles and the keys Mayo crave stay jingle-jangling in Stephen Cluxton’s pocket.
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, J Cooper, E Murchan; D Byrne, J Small (0-1), R McDaid; B Fenton (0-1), J McCarthy; N Scully (0-1), C O’Callaghan (1-1), S Bugler (0-1); P Small, C Kilkenny (0-3), D Rock (1-4, 0-4 frees)
Subs: B Howard for Bugler (HT), P Mannion for P Small (50), C Basquel for Cooper (53), C Costello for Scully (70), P McMahon for Murchan (74)
Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, P Durcan, L Keegan; S Coen (0-1 mark), O Mullin (0-1), E McLaughlin; D O’Connor, M Ruane; K McLoughlin, R O’Donoghue (0-2), C Loftus (0-1); T Conroy, A O’Shea, C O’Connor (0-9, 0-7 frees)
Subs: M Plunkett for Durcan (HT), J Carr for Conroy (49), D Coen (0-1) for O’Donoghue (57), J Flynn for Loftus (61), J Durcan for Mullin (71)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)