Saturday 3 December 2016

Dubs' double delight as Westerners self-destruct

Dublin 1-15 Mayo 1-14

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Stephen Cluxton lifting the trophy. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton lifting the trophy. Photo: Sportsfile

First to the facts, warm and comforting for the winners, cold and miserable for the losers. Dublin are All-Ireland champions for the 26th time and proud holders of two-in-a-row for the first time since 1977 after remaining unbeaten in 16 League and Championship games this season.

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Mayo's wait for an All-Ireland title will continue into a 66th year as their dismal run in senior finals extended to no wins from 10 attempts since 1989.

Each of those finals brings its own painful memories but on a league table for misery, Saturday's setback is a prime contender for the No 1 slot.

Dislodging what may be the best team ever produced by Dublin was always going to be a massive challenge, but over the draw and replay Mayo proved they were ready for it.

Unfortunately for them, they also demonstrated an alarming capacity to self-destruct by committing a series of avoidable errors.

Three separate examples from Saturday evening illustrate the point. Firstly, they dropped David Clarke, favourite for the All-Star goalkeeping position; secondly, his replacement, Robert Hennelly had a dreadful evening; thirdly, Cillian O'Connor, normally the most reliable of place-kickers, missed a chance to level it up at the end.

Mayo's Cillian, left, is consoled by team-mate Lee Keegan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mayo's Cillian, left, is consoled by team-mate Lee Keegan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Rhythm

Was it the weight of history that made a man who had earlier pointed nine frees lose his rhythm as he lined up the crucial kick deep in stoppage-time?

Was it the fact that he hadn't played for Mayo since the Connacht semi-final defeat by Galway in mid-June that made Hennelly twitchy under a routine catch in the 41st minute? The spill left Paddy Andrews with a clear goal chance, which was denied by a drag-down, leaving Hennelly facing dismissal.

Clarke did his best to get to Diarmuid Connolly's penalty kick but it was sufficiently well-placed to become the priceless goal which, in all probability, won the game for Dublin. What was going through Stephen Rochford's head as he watched that minute of madness play such an important role in the game? He explained afterwards that changing goalies was a judgement call, prompted by kick-out considerations.

Michael Darragh MacAuley. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Darragh MacAuley. Photo: Sportsfile

Basically, management felt that Hennelly's deliveries would suit the occasion better. That's despite losing faith in him after the defeat by Galway and choosing Clarke for the six subsequent games, during which he established himself as odds-on favourite for the All-Star honour.

The gamble failed spectacularly. Hennelly's kick-outs were poor - one of them sucked Lee Keegan into trouble, which led to his black-card dismissal just before half-time - while the error which led to the penalty had a devastating impact on Mayo.

The sides were level at the time, but Mayo had made the brighter start to the second half (they trailed 0-10 to 1-6 at half-time) and looked to be building up an impressive momentum. In fairness to them, Dublin's goal, and the circumstances which led to it, didn't demoralise Mayo but it greatly increased an already heavy workload.

And when they looked to the bench for back-up to help with the task, the quality didn't compare to what Jim Gavin was able to unleash.

John Small and Cillian O'Connor. Photo: Sportsfile
John Small and Cillian O'Connor. Photo: Sportsfile

He despatched Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley and Cormac Costello into the action between the 47th and 56th minutes, a triple injection of poise, power and pace that had a significant impact.

Brogan, omitted from starting duty after an indifferent performance in the drawn game, increased Mayo's problems close to goal; Costello's pace stretched a tiring defence, enabling him to score three points, while Macauley's steaming runs also became an important factor.

And yet Dublin couldn't shake off gritty opponents, even when Costello's second point put the defending champions three clear on the hour mark.

As in the drawn game, Mayo's defiance intensified on the run-in and while they outscored Dublin 0-3 to 0-1 in that period, the chance to send the game to extra-time was squandered when O'Connor pulled the late free-kick wide.

Mayo's debrief will be painful. Their error count over the two games was too high, yet they came within a point of Dublin after 140 minutes of fascinating action.

The realisation that their own mistakes, rather than anything particularly special by Dublin, played such a central role in both games will be deeply frustrating.

All the more so since it comes after the misery of 2012, where early goals unhinged them against Donegal, the close call in 2013, when they lost the final by a point to Dublin, the disappointment of losing to Kerry in extra-time in 2014 and the heartbreak after being outgunned by Dublin in last year's replayed semi-final.

It's a horror pattern of such proportions that the more superstitious supporters really will believe that perhaps there is something to the famous 'curse' theory after all.

While Mayo reflect ruefully on the goalkeeping change and its serious consequences, Dublin are basking in the glory of an achievement which was delivered without ever reaching full efficiency.

At no stage in either game did they display the command and control which enabled them to work through the severe difficulties they encountered against Kerry.

By dropping Brogan, Macauley and David Byrne from the starting line-up, Gavin showed that he had serious concerns after the drawn game.

His corrective measures worked, not least with Fitzsimons' introduction to defence, where he produced an outstanding performance.

Byrne didn't have long to wait for action, coming in for Jonny Cooper, who was dismissed on a black card in the 20th minute.

The change did not weaken Dublin to any obvious degree, unlike the impact Keegan's dismissal had on Mayo.

Embellished

Keegan was well on top in his battle with Connolly and further embellished an excellent opening half hour by firing in a smashing goal in the 18th minute.

His replacement, Stephen Coen, did well enough, without being anything like as difficult to handle as Keegan.

Maurice Deegan was technically correct on all three black cards but, as has become the norm this year, there were some other similar fouls which didn't draw the same sanctions.

The rationale behind the black card is sound but its implementation is inconsistent, which makes the case for a switch to a 10-minute 'sin bin' all the more valid.

That's a debate for another time but, for now, the focus remains very much on Dublin and a power run which has seen them win three All-Ireland, four Allianz League and four Leinster titles since Jim Gavin took over for the start of the 2013 season.

The successes have imbued the squad with huge confidence which empowers them to work their way through whatever difficulties arise.

Given those circumstances, it's crucial for opposition to restrict errors to a minimum, something Mayo failed to do in the drawn final or, even more noticeably, in the replay.

It resulted in more misery, leaving them with a deep sense of dismay for the long winter months ahead.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-9 (7fs), D Connolly 1-1 (1-0 pen), C Costello 0-3, K McManamon, B Brogan 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-9 (9fs), L Keegan 1-0, P Durcan 0-2, A Moran, K McLoughlin, D O'Connor 0-1 each.

Dublin - S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, P Flynn; D Connolly, K McManamon, D Kilkenny; P Mannion, D Rock, P Andrews. Subs: D Byrne for Cooper (20 b/c), B Brogan for Andrews (47), MD Macauley for Mannion (52), C Costello for McManamon (56), E Lowndes for Small (60), D Daly for O'Sullivan (72).

Mayo - R Hennelly, B Harrison, D Vaughan, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; S O Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, D O'Connor; J Doherty, A Moran, C O'Connor. Subs: S Coen for Keegan (35 b/c), C O'Shea for Vaughan (ht), D Clarke for Hennelly (41b/c), B Moran for A Moran (55), A Dillon for Doherty (60), C Barrett for Boyle (71).

Ref - M Deegan (Laois)

Irish Independent

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