Monday 29 May 2017

Cillian O'Connor to the rescue as brave Mayo thwart Dubs

All-Ireland SFC final: Dublin 2-9 Mayo 0-15

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor kicks his side's equalising point despite the best efforts of Dublin players Eoghan O'Gara and Darren Daly. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Mayo's Cillian O'Connor kicks his side's equalising point despite the best efforts of Dublin players Eoghan O'Gara and Darren Daly. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

How can a team concede two own-goals and not lose an All-Ireland final? And how does a team survive, despite their six starting forwards scoring only two points between them from open play?

Cue yesterday's eccentric contest, which challenged just about every line of conventional wisdom known to sport.

It spread through Dublin and Mayo like a contagion before eventually deciding that the best outcome was to invite them to a re-match on Saturday week.

They will return with mindsets which has Mayo convinced their time is nigh and Dublin believing that they cannot possibly be as inefficient again.

Evidence

There is lots of evidence to support both cases, making for another fascinating contest in what will be the first All-Ireland football final replay since Galway v Kerry in 2000.

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly has his shirt ripped as he tussles with Mayo’s Lee Keegan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly has his shirt ripped as he tussles with Mayo’s Lee Keegan. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

When Jim Gavin and Stephen Rochford begin their debriefs today, they will be dealing with scenarios neither would have expected.

Gavin must figure out why Dublin scored only nine points, while Rochford will still have concerns over his defence, despite the opposition's low strike-rate.

That's because Mayo conceded two own-goals - surely unprecedented in All-Ireland finals - and also offered Dublin a few other chances which drew excellent saves from David Clarke.

Still, there is so much for Mayo to be pleased about that a really confident atmosphere will surge through the camp in the run-up to the replay.

Mayo's Andy Moran reacts to a missed opportunity. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Mayo's Andy Moran reacts to a missed opportunity. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The 100/30 outsiders defied the odds to stretch Dublin close to breaking point, proving once again that they are the best equipped of all to counteract Gavin's high- achievers.

As in last year's drawn semi- final, it was Mayo who rescued what looked like a lost cause after Diarmuid Connolly's 68th-minute point put Dublin three clear (2-9 to 0-12).

However, with seven minutes stoppage-time called, there was still a chance for Mayo to launch a rescue drive, which they did in the bravest way possible.

Their courage was backed by an energy that troubled Dublin, who failed to score in stoppage-time, whereas Mayo got in for three precious points, the final one kicked by Cillian O'Connor in the 77th minute.

Indeed, it looked briefly that Mayo might have won a free from the resultant kick-out when Evan Regan hit the ground but referee Conor Lane awarded it to Dublin, much to the relief a team now hanging on desperately.

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan attempts to keep the ball in play while under pressure from Mayo’s Brendan Harrison. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan attempts to keep the ball in play while under pressure from Mayo’s Brendan Harrison. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dublin would have been livid if that call had gone against them as they were already unhappy with the decision to send off James McCarthy on a black card in the 24th minute.

On the letter of the law, Lane was correct but there were instances later on when others escaped black and were instead shown yellow.

Paddy Andrews replaced McCarthy, with Ciaran Kilkenny switching to the half-back line, a move that looked to have borne a rich harvest when the St Brigid's man kicked two points just before half-time.

Andrews did well enough in the second half too but elsewhere the Dublin attack misfired badly.

Even Dean Rock's free-taking, which is usually so reliable, wasn't anything near his usual standard while others were having problems with their own game too.

That Dublin's first two scores - both goals - were finished by opposition pair Kevin McLoughlin (ninth minute) and Colm Boyle (22nd minute) was certainly something of a novelty, while also underlining the peculiar shape the game had taken.

McLoughlin turned the ball into his net after Clarke had saved from Brian Fenton, and Boyle inadvertently diverted the ball home after Rock dropped a ball.

Rock became the first Dublin player to score, slotting over a free in the 30th minute, by which stage Mayo were on 0-4.

Nobody would ever have envisaged a day when this Dublin attack would go half an hour without scoring, but there was more tales of the unexpected to come.

After leading by 2-4 to 0-5 at half-time, Dublin went 16 minutes without scoring in the second half, a period during which Mayo kicked five points to draw level. This was Mayo at their best, using the ball well, keeping the error rate down and, most of all, matching Dublin physically and mentally.

Mayo also coped well with the very wet conditions during that period, and when O'Connor drew them level in the 45th minute, it looked as if they might be on their way to liberation day.

However, Dublin responded with two points before Mayo drew level with points from O'Connor and Alan Dillon. Yet again, the initiative veered Dublin's way, this time with a power that had all the hallmarks of other games where they finished strongly.

Points by Johnny Small, Rock and Connolly put them three clear and seemingly on their way to the county's first All-Ireland double since 1976-77.

Once again, however, Mayo dug deep and launched a match-saving drive, which Dublin were unable to curb.

The game certainly won't make any catalogue of great finals for the quality of football but it will be recalled for other reasons - especially Mayo's own-goals, most unusual developments in any game, let alone an All-Ireland final.

Both McLoughlin and Boyle were unlucky to concede them but the impressive response to the setback spoke of a team whose self-belief has not been damaged by a failure to make the big breakthrough over several frustrating seasons.

It would have been easy for Mayo to fear that the gods were again mocking them, but instead they maintained their high workrate and trusted the game-plan.

It all came together to rattle Dublin, who lost much of their shape as the game progressed

Nobody could fault their effort or persistence, but they often looked woefully short of ideas as they tried to work their way into the scoring area in the second half.

But that was the case for most of the day. Gavin began repair work in the attack by replacing Kevin McManamon with Paul Mannion in the 46th minute and later called Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn ashore.

It will be interesting to see if he opts for a radical overhaul for the replay or treats yesterday's game as a one-off and goes with the same starting 15 again. The latter option is the more likely.

Credit must go to a dogged Mayo defence, where Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan and Patrick Durcan were very impressive in front of Clarke, but there was more to Dublin's unease than that.

Several players didn't get their touch right and the harder they tried, the more frustrated they became. Mayo had a lot of handling errors too but battled on through some terrible setbacks to seize a draw which they thoroughly deserved.

Now, the challenge is to make the second chance count, something they failed to do in All-Ireland semi-finals against Dublin last year and against Kerry a year earlier.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-4 (3fs), K McLoughlin, C Boyle 1-0 (og) each, P Andrews 0-2, B Fenton, J Small, D Connolly 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-7 (5fs), A Moran, D Vaughan 0-2 each, J Doherty, T Parsons, P Durcan, A Dillon 0-1 each.

Dublin - S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, D Byrne, J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J Small, B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, D Connolly, C Kilkenny; K McManamon, D Rock, B Brogan. Subs: P Andrews for McCarthy (24, BC), P Mannion for McManamon (46), M Fitzsimons for Macauley (52), E O'Gara for Brogan (62), D Daly for Byrne (66), D Bastick for Flynn (74).

Mayo - D Clarke; B Harrison, K Higgins, P Durcan, C Boyle, L Keegan, D Vaughan, S O Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, D O'Connor, J Doherty, A Moran, C O'Connor. Subs: A Dillon for S O'Shea (55), C Barrett for Boyle (59), B Moran for Dillon (66), S Coen for D O'Connor (67), E Regan for A Moran (71), C Loftus for Regan (78).

Ref - C Lane (Cork)

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