Brilliant Brogan leads charge for 'electric' Dublin
This is how good Bernard Brogan was on the night.
With two minutes of ordinary time left on the clock, Bryan Cullen got possession down in the corner of Croke Park where Hill 16 and the Cusack Stand converge.
He had options inside and outside, but the former Dublin captain had only one thing on his mind. Get the ball to Brogan – wherever he was.
Cullen's intent was that obvious. In the couple of seconds he had possession, he was almost frantic in his search for his colleague, clear in the knowledge that finding him at this range maximised the benefit to the team.
Brogan duly arrived on his shoulder, took the pass, outstripped two defenders and popped over his 10th and final point of the night to add to the wondrous goal he scored in the 33rd minute of a really compelling game.
There have been few performances as complete from a forward in Croke Park in recent memory as this one from Brogan on Saturday night.
In this opinion, his greatest effort remains the 2008 Dublin final replay for his club St Oliver Plunkett's-Eoghan Ruadh against Kilmacud Crokes. They lost 3-6 to 0-13, with Brogan scoring 10 points, seven from play, on a night when he could do no wrong in opposition to Paul Griffin.
In 2010, the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork and the last round league match against Tyrone were right up there with anything he has done at inter-county level.
But this was close to flawless and handing him a mark of 10 in the match ratings doesn't demand a second thought.
There was one second-half wide from a reasonably tight angle, but outside of that, it was hard to recall a mistake or a rash shot selection of any great consequence. You couldn't always say that about him.
Brogan kicked points off his right foot, he smashed the goal with his left. He came between his marker Ger Cafferkey and Mayo goalkeeper Kenneth O'Malley to punch one, he fisted over another on the run.
He kicked all his frees, three of which he was fouled for himself, he sliced over a sideline off the outside of his right foot, Maurice Fitzgerald style. He turned creator for Cian O'Sullivan and Paddy Andrews in the first half and he showed for every ball all night.
"Yourself could put in a pass and he's going to score it," reasoned Mayo manager James Horan, electing to lay blame at those outfield, who didn't close down the space on the providers.
Cafferkey, so attentive in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, was left in his trail for the night, Horan clearly figuring no one else could do a better job. Maybe he was right.
But, at some stage, a change of guard would surely have benefited the team and got Brogan thinking differently.
"Our full-back line, under the pressure they were under in the first half, actually did well, but the amount of space they had around the middle," he reflected.
Diplomacy prevailed in Jim Gavin's post-match assessment, too, as the hod carriers were name checked for their contribution, but Gavin's own policy to get Brogan motoring early this season and playing as often as he can has paid rich dividends.
One more win and Dublin are virtually assured of a place in the semi- finals.
When they play at such pace and shift the ball around with the boot as they did they are difficult to contain and very pleasant to watch. If mistakes were made on either side, the tempo carried most responsibility.
"They're electric at the moment. They're very pacey. There was serious intensity and pace to that game, so they're ahead of a lot of people at the moment," noted Horan.
That another disciplinary kink appeared on the night will really have disappointed Gavin when he reviewed it.
Ger Brennan's red card was for a number of offences, a petulant kick into a prostrate Michael Conroy's midriff where the ball rested after Brennan had taken him out with a high challenge was followed by an elbow into Donie Vaughan's face as the Mayo centre-back rushed in to confront him.
Dublin's discipline was very poor throughout 2012 and Gavin has set new standards for his players, but this was their third straight red in four games.
"I haven't been told what he was sent off for. The bit I saw was their six coming in after with high hands and then their 14 coming into Ger, that's the bit I saw. Obviously, we're going to have to review it now, it's not as clear-cut as the other two," he reflected.
Down to 14 men then on 42 minutes, Dublin grew stronger and after Kevin McLoughlin, much improved in the second half, put Mayo in front (0-13 to 1-9) with two points, the home side took off impressively, Declan O'Mahony and Cian O'Sullivan getting complete control around the middle and Jack McCaffrey storming into it after a quiet opening half.
Mayo's failure to get a decent foothold at midfield will disappoint Horan. By my count, Dublin gained possession from 10 of their 14 first-half kick-outs and by the 51st minute both Jason Gibbons and Barry Moran had been replaced.
There was plenty to draw from the game all the same for Mayo.
Jason Doherty scarcely touched the ball in last year's championship match, but was most effective here with sharp accuracy from play and frees helping him to six points.
Enda Varley and Conroy also gave trouble to their corner-backs, though Johnny Cooper was so alert in loose play.
Lee Keegan pilfered three points from half-back, while Colm Boyle's aggressive tackling was a highlight on the night, but Mayo may review the space they left behind them and and feel they should have been more compact in defence.
Brogan's goal was cleverly manufactured between himself and Paul Flynn as they worked off a break from an O'Mahony delivery.
The finish was that of a man simply oozing in self belief again as they led by 1-8 to 0-8 at the break.
Mayo goalkeeper O'Malley saved a 46th-minute penalty from Stephen Cluxton, who took over duties from the absent Diarmuid Connolly, but O'Malley had no answer to Kevin McManamon's goal after a pinpoint Ciaran Kilkenny pass.
Kilkenny had come in for Connolly beforehand and was deployed at half-forward where he foraged well on his league debut.
Man of the match: B Brogan (Dublin)
Scorers – Dublin: B Brogan 1-10 (5f, 1sl), K McManamon 1-1, P Andrews 0-2, C O'Sullivan 0-1. Mayo: J Doherty 0-6 (3f), L Keegan, K McLoughlin (2f) 0-3, E Varley 0-2, M Conroy, A O'Shea 0-1 each.
Dublin – S Cluxton 7; K O'Brien 6, R O'Carroll 5, J Cooper 8; D Daly 7, G Brennan 6, J McCaffrey 7; D O'Mahony 7, C O'Sullivan 8; P Flynn 7, T Brady 6, C Reddin 5; C Kilkenny 7, B Brogan 10, P Andrews 8. Subs: K McManamon 7 for Brady, D Nelson 6 for O'Carroll (h-t), B Cullen 6 for Reddin (51), P Quinn for Kilkenny (60), N Devereux for McCaffrey (64).
Mayo – K O'Malley 8; K Higgins 6, G Cafferkey 6, C Barrett 7; L Keegan 8, D Vaughan 6, C Boyle 8; J Gibbons 5, B Moran 6; K McLoughlin 7, A O'Shea 6, R Feeney 7; E Varley 7, J Doherty 8, M Conroy 7. Subs: C Carolan 5 for Gibbons (44), S O'Shea 5 for Moran (51), T Cunniffe for Feeney (61).
Ref – C Reilly (Meath).