Sunday 23 April 2017

Hand of history hovering over Dublin as Mayo are destroyed

Dublin 1-16 Mayo 0-7

Cillian O’Connor of Mayo about to have his shot at goal blocked by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton as Philly McMahon approaches. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cillian O’Connor of Mayo about to have his shot at goal blocked by Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton as Philly McMahon approaches. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Brian Fenton has yet to start a league or championship clash for Dublin and leave the field a beaten man.

Given his status as the game's foremost midfielder, cultivated in just under two years since his full debut away to Monaghan, it is arguably the most telling side-story in this unprecedented period of Dublin dominance.

Fenton bestrode Croke Park like a colossus on Saturday night. His range of skills allow him to solo and kick off both feet, his strength carries him past and through opponents. His energy had him closing down Andy Moran one minute beneath his own posts and breaking the line like a rugby centre to create goal chances at the other end.

In tandem with Michael Darragh Macauley, he casually toyed with a Mayo team that wasn't able to lay a glove on the pair.

Between them they were on the ball 40 times in the first-half. That influence waned after the break, but it still reflected the control Dublin are exercising over most of their games.

Their midfielders, together with Ciarán Kilkenny, had the remote control and weren't in the mood to let go all night.

Dublin's Eric Lowndes in action against Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin's Eric Lowndes in action against Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

This was a sobering night for Mayo, dispiriting in the overall context of their rivalry with Dublin - who they have now failed to beat in 11 league and championship matches, dating back to the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final.

David Clarke was heroic then, just as he was on Saturday in preventing further leakage. But the focus is back on the range of his kick-outs after one of his lofted, mid-range efforts was intercepted after just seven minutes, creating the opening for Dublin's only goal from Conor McHugh. He batted home for a 1-2 to 0-0 lead after Kilkenny's good approach work.

Kilkenny's lay-off to McHugh was the epitome of the selfless streak that underpins this Dublin team and is carrying them to a special place in Gaelic football history.

Equal

Dublin's Paddy Andrews takes a penalty. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dublin's Paddy Andrews takes a penalty. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In just under two weeks they travel to Tralee seeking to equal the 34-match unbeaten streak of the Kerry team that won four successive All-Ireland titles from 1929 to 1932.

When they play like they played for so much of Saturday night, there isn't a team that can touch them.

What's so concerning, not just for Mayo but for football's other main protagonists, is the profile of the team.

This was a sneak preview of the next generation of Dublin and the shirts look like they are being placed in trustworthy hands.

Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy, Cian O'Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Mannion and Bernard Brogan didn't feature at all. Paul Flynn, Paddy Andrews and Kevin McManamon came off the bench. Cormac Costello, Mayo's destroyer in last year's All-Ireland final replay, wasn't around either.

McHugh, star of the 2012 All-Ireland minor win with Costello, has had a difficult graduation, but popped up for 1-3 here, which will really help to settle him. Eric Lowndes enjoyed his best outing in a blue shirt, hitting two points from half-back. John Small is looking like he will be increasingly difficult to dislodge from half-back, even with McCaffrey back in the frame.

There possibly isn't a better example of persistence from a player than Mick Fitzsimons. Prior to last year's replay against Mayo he had started just three of 24 championship games played under Jim Gavin. But he hung in and is thriving now, thwarting the in-form Andy Moran impressively here.

No Mayo forward scored from play, which was more a compliment to their opponents than an indictment of their own shortcomings, as Dublin threw a ring of steel around their 'D' and protected it zealously.

Philly McMahon picked up Cillian O'Connor and they had a right battle. McMahon was lucky not to be spotted blocking O'Connor off the ball, thus avoiding a certain black card.

In the next play O'Connor flattened McMahon with an arm across the face, for which he picked up a yellow. McMahon finished the game with two points and his range of passes was sublime; O'Connor drifted into anonymity.

Overall, Mayo got little out of their most experienced players, with the exception of Clarke.

His positioning and shot-stopping was exceptional. Twice in the first-half he narrowed the angle to force bad wides (one was so wayward it went over the sideline from five metres out) from Eoghan O'Gara. He got down to deny Macauley in the 34th minute and though he nudged the rebound home referee David Coldrick consulted with his umpires before disallowing it for a touch on the ground with the hand. A good call.

His trio of successive saves from Paddy Andrews midway through the second-half was a highlight.

Andrews stepped up to deputise for Connolly when Dean Rock - again illustrating the confidence gained from his consistency last season - was fouled. Clarke saved a poor penalty before blocking Andrews' rebound and subsequent third effort at close range.

Worryingly, Mayo took no energy from that sequence and failed to score for the last 27 minutes as Rock and Flynn saw it home.

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford acknowledged they had "underperformed", but doubted there would be any lingering psychological damage.

"I don't think so. The reality is that we're a better team than we showed there. We didn't feel we were quite as good as maybe what we made ourselves look like last week (against Roscommon). We're certainly not as bad as we made ourselves look this week," he said.

"So, we know that we will improve over the next number of weeks. And whether we play Dublin or not later in the summer, that will be something that we'll address when and if we get to that point."

Gavin was happy with the defensive application of Dublin and the control they applied, but much less satisfied with the schedule of games college teams must play on finals weekend, as he explained the absence of Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion.

"There's so many experts in the science field in the universities, but yet we see them putting players out to play back-to-back games on a Friday and a Saturday. You wouldn't do it in any other sport, you wouldn't do it to a greyhound probably," he said.

For now they top the league with the hand of history on their shoulders. They're dodging the bullets with ease.

Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-8 (6fs), C McHugh 1-3, P McMahon, E Lowndes 0-2 each, P Flynn 0-1.

Mayo: E Regan (2fs), C O'Connor, (1f 1 45) 0-2 each, T Parsons, S Coen, C Boyle 0-1 each.

Dublin: S Cluxton 8; M Fitzsimons 8, P McMahon 9, D Byrne 7; D Daly 7, J Small 8, E Lowndes 8; B Fenton 9, MD Macauley 8; N Scully 7, C Kilkenny 8, SB Carthy 7; D Rock 8, E O'Gara 6, C McHugh 8. Subs: P Andrews 6 for O'Gara (45), P Flynn 7 for Carthy (50), K McManamon 6 for McHugh (55), C Reddin for Byrne (66), E O Conghaile for Fenton (70), C Mulally for Small (71).

Mayo: D Clarke 8; P Durcan 7, L Keegan 6, K Higgins 6; S Coen 6, C Boyle 7, D Vaughan 6; T Parsons 6, J Gibbons 5; F Boland 7, K McLoughlin 6, D O'Connor 6; E Regan 6, C O'Connor 6, A Moran 6. Subs: B Harrison 6 for Gibbons (h-t), S Nally 6 for Vaughan BC (50), C O'Shea 6 for Moran (54), C Loftus for D O'Connor (63), D Kirby for Boland (66).

Ref: D Coldrick (Meath)

Irish Independent

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