Wednesday 24 April 2019

Heroics of Hennelly prevents a landslide

GAA, Allianz NFL Division 1: Dublin 1-12 Mayo 0-7

This rivalry between Dublin and Mayo, that once burned fiercely and regaled the nation, now looks quenched, existing only in memory. Mayo's star has waned and their priorities may need to be redrawn.

Eclipsed in their own province by Galway, and close to being relegated last year, they came to Croke Park on Saturday buoyed by three league wins, facing a Dublin team already beaten twice, but they left with a defeat that underlined a chasm between the counties that is now indisputable.

Long before the finish that came as a merciful relief, Dublin had made the outcome inevitable, exerting an almost contemptuous control. The announcement that Cormac Costello was the game's Man of the Match came on the strength of 1-4 on a night when scores were not plentiful.

He also had the most decisive one, the game's only goal, but it was impossible to disregard the heroics of Robbie Hennelly. The Mayo goalkeeper prevented a catastrophe with seven saves, a couple from Costello, a couple from Paul Mannion, one from Jack McCaffrey - it was hard to keep track. He also scored two points from Mayo's meagre total, for a team whose attack was toothless, as poor as it has ever been. They had just one score from the starting forwards.

Aidan O'Shea was followed everywhere by Cian O'Sullivan on the Kilmacud man's comeback appearance. Ciarán Treacy went off injured. Andy Moran had a day he'd rather forget. Everything Brian Reape kicked turned to dust.

They shot 14 wides and kicked a number of other scoring opportunities short and they never seriously threatened the Dublin goal, where Evan Comerford hadn't to make a single serious save. Dublin defended at their ease and there was never the remotest risk of being beaten by Mayo for the first time in Jim Gavin's reign.

The last Mayo win over Dublin in a competitive match was in August 2012. Their last league win over Dublin was in March of the same year. That run does not look like ending any time soon.

In those conversations centred around who might disrupt Dublin's dominance, Mayo had already become a peripheral concern before Saturday night's meeting. They went to Croke Park hoping to find some of their old spark and backbone. The second coming of James Horan had generated renewed hope and three wins on the bounce allowed a degree of guarded optimism.

Dublin lost in Tralee two weeks ago, to go with an opening league defeat in Monaghan. Did it mean anything to a team chasing a record fifth All-Ireland in a row this year? Perhaps not a great deal.

They needed a response to maintain their bid in the defence of their league title win of 2018, and they did it with such mastery of Mayo that it will puncture some of the neutral optimism that they can be seriously challenged.

They gave first starts to O'Sullivan, Ciarán Kilkenny and David Byrne, left off Dean Rock and there was no sign of James McCarthy, who starred in Tralee.

McCaffrey had his first start of the season, kicked one beautiful score and looked near his best. Kilkenny did some neat things and went off in the second half. In the middle of the field Darren Gavin gained more experience alongside Brian Fenton. And all you could say was that they never really looked in bother.

Mayo's cause was not helped by black cards in each half to Lee Keegan and Seamus O'Shea, which left them a man short for 10 minutes - when if anything they needed a man extra.

By half-time they were six points adrift, and lucky to be just that behind. Hennelly was unable to stop a powerful shot from Costello after 18 minutes when the Whitehall player dummied past Keith Higgins, making his 150th senior appearance, leaving the defender on the seat of his pants. He buried the ball at the near post to give Dublin a 1-2 to 0-2 lead.

Mayo were already five points down when they lost Keegan to a black card after 27 minutes and Dublin went seven up, before Mayo had it back to six. That was the distance between them when O'Shea was black-carded after 49 minutes, Fenton adding a sweet score to open a seven-point advantage almost immediately. The rest was dour and predictable.

In the second half, Colm Boyle tried to get to a McDonagh cross and in charging through knocked over one of the umpires. After a few minutes' treatment, he was stretchered off.

Scorers: Dublin - C Costello 1-4 (2f); P Mannion (1f), D Rock (1m, 1f) 0-2 each; C Kilkenny, J McCaffrey, C O'Callaghan, B Fenton 0-1 each. Mayo: R Hennelly (1f, 1 '45'), J Doherty (2f) 0-2 each; F McDonagh, M Ruane, K McLoughlin 0-1 each.

Dublin: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, J Cooper; J McCaffrey, C O'Sullivan, E Murchan; B Fenton, D Gavin; B Howard, C O'Callaghan, N Scully; P Mannion, C Kilkenny, C Costello. Subs: D Rock for Kilkenny (49), P Andrews for Mannion (58), S Bugler for Howard (64), D Daly for Fitzsimons (65), MD Macauley for Gavin (67).

Mayo: R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, B Harrison; P Durcan, C Boyle, L Keegan; M Ruane, D Vaughan; F McDonagh, A O'Shea, C Treacy; A Moran, B Reape, J Doherty. Subs: C Barrett for Cafferkey (20), K McLoughlin for Treacy (35+1), S O'Shea for Durcan (h-t), F Boland for Moran (59), S Coen for Reape (69).

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)

Fingal Independent