Seventeen minutes left and Castlebar Mitchell’s wing back Patrick Durcan strikes a sensational score to put Mayo four points up. The score was superbly taken. Each Mayo player who received the ball taking the right decision, protecting the ball and probing Dublin defensively before Durcan created the space to dispatch over the bar. Dublin are looking like a boxer who is knocked to the canvas. Can Mayo hit the decisive punch? The answer today at a tense Croke Park was an emphatic no. Dublin recovered their senses and when Bernard Brogan put his boot to a Fenton miscued shot on goal, Mayo’s past demons came back and haunted them.
I live and work in Galway (not the first time that I have mentioned that fact today on the blog). In my line of work, I am in contact with quite a few Mayo folk, great people who are as passionate about the big ball than anywhere else I have seen. Mayo fans always seem a bit quieter this time of year, nervous expectation of what is to come and how Mayo can potentially reverse the jinx since 1951. Last year was a bitter blow, defeated by Kerry in the last ten minutes of the replay due to a lack of game management and composure to close out the game. This year, the same symptoms were in full view. After Cillian O’Connor dispatched to the net after forty-seven minutes following excellent work from Andy Moran, Mayo went into their shell. Mayo forward line retreated back to midfield. Mayo player movement was now limited, no dynamic running lines from Mayo players coming out of defense, no distinct outlet in the forward line. Aidan O’Shea struck an isolated figure in the full forward line having to contend with three Dublin defenders at all times. Mayo froze when given the opportunity to win this contest and when you give a team of the caliber of Dublin a chance to get back into the game, you will be duly punished and so it proved.
Dublin have to be applauded for today’s performance. Mayo asked questions of their resilience early in the second half and Dublin management and players responded with gusto. Andrews was the man of the match today. His performance led from the front and took his scores either left or right foot leaving Barrett and McCafferkey chasing his shadow at times. Dublin’s squad depth ultimately won this contest in the last quarter. Mayo being four points up were then outscored 3-5 to 0-2. Emphatic dominance or emphatic collapse depending on which side of the fence you are. McAuley’s introduction to midfield just as Seamie O’Shea was black carded for stupidly reacting to Johnny Cooper’s shoulder was key. Mayo’s dominance in midfield started to wane and with Fenton making lung bursting runs from deep, Mayo were now in trouble in the middle of the park. Bernard Brogan’s was pivotal in the comeback; instinctive strike for his goal and his run into the penalty area saw Phil McMahon (good cop / bad cop) to punch to the net. Brogan’s hand pass for the lead-up to the second goal will be scrutinized. Minimal hand pass movement but Eddie Kinsella was happy to award the goal. Cue the Mayo collapse.
It had started so well for Mayo. Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea started the game with gusto, driving Mayo forward. Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor were leading the Mayo attack with several beautiful scores from long range but Dublin thanks to Andrews continued to keep in touch. Mayo management risk on Vaughan back fired. The Ballinrobe man was excellent tracking players but could not physically impose himself on the game due to his shoulder problems. Durcan’s introduction on thirty-three minutes was coming a long way off. Mayo’s persistence to hit aimless long ball into Aidan O’Shea bordered on mystifying when the running game was going so well. Different management, same core problems. Mayo simply do not know how to get over the line this time of year. All neutrals will be sad for Mayo but when you commit the same errors year in year out, sadness eventually turns to bemusement. It is like an annual event at this stage. Mayo need to learn from the error of their ways, otherwise there will be more Walford Square meltdowns for Mayo in the years to come.
Dublin have serious momentum heading into the final. They finished the game extremely strongly buoyed by the impact of their subs bench. McManamon’s goal and late point gave the scoreline a gloss but the hard nature of these two contests will have brought the Capital side up no end. Kerry are in for one hell of a battle in two weeks. The classic All Ireland final match-up is complete. GAA may be happy on how the game was played today but the Connolly red card rescinding in the early hours of this morning has left the association with a disciplinary system which is frankly in disrepute. GAA are a laughing stock over this debacle but Connolly was going to get off after Mayo’s Kevin Keane red card was reversed a couple of weeks ago. Heaven forbid what might happen in a GAA pitch this weekend now? Red cards are as worthless as the black card.