Gilroy thrilled after familiar faces propel Dubs to victory
PEERING down at their rivals from the peaks of the top division is an unusual occurrence for modern-day Dublin football teams, but that's the splendid view they currently enjoy following their productive trip to Castlebar yesterday.
They head the table on scoring difference from Cork and with four of their six points having been secured on the road, it raises the real possibility that Dublin could be headed for the final for the first time since 1999. They were lucky to take both points yesterday -- a reality readily acknowledged by manager, Pat Gilroy, as this was definitely a case of Mayo tossing away the points on the chilly March winds.
They kicked no fewer than 18 wides (10-8 in either half) and also dropped quite a few deliveries short in a truly shocking display of bad kicking.
"It's hard to win a game when you miss that amount of chances," sighed a disappointed John O'Mahony. The loss of two league points which should have been bagged wasn't his only concern either as wing-back Peadar Gardiner faces three months on the sideline after breaking his elbow in the eighth minute.
Midfielder, Ronan McGarrity retired with a hamstring injury in the 20th minute leaving Mayo in repair mode far earlier than they would have liked. In fairness, they camouflaged the losses quite well in terms of retaining their shape and balance, but came nowhere close to correcting the shooting virus.
"We must have had 70pc of the possession, but we didn't make it count. That's frustrating," said O'Mahony who watched Dublin run up a match-winning score off limited opportunities. However, their chance-to-score ratio was far superior as they scored 10 times (nine different scorers) while shooting just three wides.
They had a scare late on when Mayo forced a close-in free which needed to yield a goal to save the day, but Andy Moran's drive was turned over the bar. It was the last defiant act by a Dublin defence which had been impressively solid all day. They coped well with the absence of Paul Griffin, who had to withdraw before the start due to a back niggle, and with full-back Michael Fitzsimons leading the security drive, Mayo's attackers were under constant pressure.
However, that only partially explains the poor shooting -- both from placed balls and open play -- on what really was a frustrating afternoon for a team that had beaten Galway and Tyrone in recent weeks.
"We were a bit lucky alright," admitted Pat Gilroy, who will be thrilled with the manner in which his new-look team has launched the new season. However, it was two of the more familiar names who made crucial interventions at a time when it looked as if Mayo might be on their way to overcoming the shooting malaise.
Enda Varley's crisply-finished goal in the 41st minute put Mayo 1-5 to 0-5 clear and while Dublin had the wind behind them, they were struggling to gain possession in the middle third of the pitch. They didn't score for 16 minutes of the second half, but the introduction of Bernard Brogan and Conal Keaney radically altered Dublin's attacking dynamic.
It was Keaney who played Brogan through for Dublin's goal in the 53rd minute and while Andy Moran levelled it up again in the 57th minute, Dublin pressed on to open a three-point lead, courtesy of precision finishes from Ross McConnell, Michael McAuley and Keaney. Mayo pared a point back in the 64th minute, but continued to miss good chances, leaving them needing a late goal which failed to materialise.
Dublin led 0-5 to 0-4 at half-time, a return which was very much against the run of play. Mayo dominated possession for long stretches of the first half, but frittered away the easiest of chances. That led to a serious erosion of confidence which, in turn, boosted Dublin.
Dublin's tactic of getting big numbers behind the ball added to Mayo's problems but it also meant that Dublin's inside forwards were left largely isolated. With Tom Parsons and Seamus O'Shea taking the game to Dublin, Mayo's possession dominance continued into the second half but apart from Varley's goal, which was the product of a route-one approach, they had little to show for their efforts.
Still, it looked as that goal might prove crucial but Dublin held their nerve and with Brogan and Keaney increasing their scoring options, Mayo cracked, conceding a goal which would ultimately derail them.
"We dealt with every aspect of the game quite well, except when it came to scoring which, of course, is what matters most of all. We'll need a far sharper eye against Derry next weekend," said O'Mahony.
For Gilroy, it was a case of another step forward, albeit one taken with a lot of help from their hapless rivals. Still, Dublin have made the best possible start to the league with a squad which is vastly different to that which flopped to Kerry last year. "We've made a good start, but that's all it is. It's still early March after all," said Gilroy.
Quite true, but at least Dublin -- for the first time in many years -- have put themselves in a position to launch a serious bid for a league final place. They won't always enjoy as much good luck as yesterday but, in the end, all that counts is the result, which for the third time in four weeks, went their way.
Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 1-0, R McConnell 0-2, A Hubbard, K McManamon, K Bonner, E Fennell, M McAuley, P Flynn, C Keaney 0-1 each. Mayo: E Varley 1-3 (0-3f), A Freeman 0-2 (2f), A Moran 0-2 (1f), S O'Shea 0-1.
Dublin -- S Cluxton; P Conlon, M Fitzsimons, P McMahon; H Gill, C O'Sullivan, G Brennan; E Fennell, R McConnell; A Hubbard, P Flynn, K Bonner; D Henry, M McAuley, K McManamon.
Subs: K Nolan for Conlon (35+2), B Brogan for K McManamon (47), D Magee for Fennell (50), C Keaney for Henry (50), B McManamon for Hubbard (57).
Mayo -- D Clarke; D Vaughan, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; P Gardiner, T Howley, K McLoughlin; T Parsons, R McGarrity; A Moran, S O'Shea, T Mortimer; E Varley, A O' Shea, A Freeman.
Subs: C Barrett for Gardiner (8), N Douglas for McGarrity (20), B Kelly for T Mortimer (60), C Mortimer for Freeman (65), M Sweeney for A O'Shea (70).
Ref -- P Fox (Westmeath).