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Paul Mannion beats Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke to score Dublin’s first goal in yesterday’s Allianz NFL semi-final at Croke Park

Paul Mannion beats Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke to score Dublin’s first goal in yesterday’s Allianz NFL semi-final at Croke Park

Paul Mannion beats Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke to score Dublin’s first goal in yesterday’s Allianz NFL semi-final at Croke Park

SO much for a good start being half the battle.

Mayo packed a whole lot of enterprise into the opening 10 minutes in Croke Park yesterday but once Dublin warmed to the challenge, the landscape changed so quickly that they had a place in the final safely secured by the half-hour mark when they led by 2-9 to 0-5.

Mayo plugged on and undid some of the damage when winning the final 40 minutes by 0-11 to 0-7 in a period when Cillian O'Connor's accuracy from frees and Michael Conroy's persistent probing were their main assets. However, Mayo never managed to cut the deficit to less than five points and with Dublin appearing to be operating well within their broad range of talents, it's likely that they would have found an extra gear if the occasion demanded.

Instead, they applied cruise control, keeping a watchful eye in their rear-view mirror to ensure that Mayo were far enough in the distance not to cause them any problems. Jim Gavin was in the happy position of being able to make changes purely for squad assessment purposes, while James Horan's adjustments were forced on him by power failures in various circuits.

The most serious outage occurred between the 13th and 30th minutes when Mayo were outscored by 2-9 to 0-2, turning their dominance over the first 10 minutes into a distant memory. They scored three early points and were denied a goal by a fine save by Stephen Cluxton from Jason Doherty in the 10th minute.

Failure

The degree to which Dublin were underperforming at that stage was underlined by their failure to get Bernard Brogan on the ball even once in that opening period. But once they applied corrective measures, it all came right as they set about wrecking Mayo's prospects of reaching the final for the third time in four seasons with a devastating burst.

Paul Mannion's solo goal in the 13th minute – their first score – set Dublin on their way and they struck for a second goal five minutes later when Jason Whelan finished off an incisive move.

The points flowed with impressive regularity too and the contest was effectively over on the half-hour mark when Dublin stretched into a nine-point lead. Mayo pared back three points before half-time and cut the deficit to five points in the 40th minute but it was as close as they got on a day when they completed a fourth successive game against Dublin in league and championship in 13 months without scoring a goal.

They had some chances but were denied by Cluxton, who made some excellent stops. The fact that Mayo created those goal openings will be of concern to Gavin who knows that such defensive lapses would be far more serious against Tyrone.

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While Dublin's defensive alignment still isn't altogether convincing, it's all very different at the other end where Gavin has a huge range of options. Paul Mannion was yesterday's star act, scoring 1-3 from open play and generally looking like a developing talent whose influence will be even more pronounced as his experience bank builds up.

Brogan didn't get a touch until the 15th minute but went on to make a big contribution, kicking 0-4 from open play, despite the tenacious resistance offered by Ger Cafferkey.

Diarmuid Connolly had a good first half, scoring 0-3; Whelan took his goal well, while Paddy Andrews was unlucky to end the day without a score.

And as if to underpin the attacking riches available to Gavin, he was able to introduce Kevin McManamon and Bryan Cullen, safe in the knowledge that there would be no lessening of momentum. He has several other worthy contenders in attack too but is not as well served at midfield.

Michael Darragh Macauley will take one of the slots but the other is still awaiting a claiming hand. Cian O'Sullivan and Denis Bastick, who shared the task on a 50-20 minute rota yesterday, did okay without making a clear case why their name should be on the No 9 jersey for the big summer tests.

Still, as an overall work-in-progress, Dublin are in a good position as they pursue a first league title win for 20 years. They returned the second highest score of their eight-match league campaign yesterday and while their 0-16 giveaway was higher that Gavin would have liked, they conceded no goals for the fifth time this season.

As for Mayo, surviving in Division 1 was quite an achievement after losing four of their first five games and with confidence-depleting league final defeats in 2010 and 2012 still fresh in the memory, they won't be too upset at having exited the competition at this stage, especially since their championship opener against Galway is only five weeks away.

They will be pleased with a 0-16 yield, especially when combined with the number of goal chances they created, but the minus column notes that they conceded 2-16 and might well have been hit for a few other goals too.

Darren Daly opted to take a point when a goal was on in the 18th minute; Mannion's drive for goal was blocked a few minutes later and it took a goal-line clearance late on to prevent Andrews from scoring Dublin's third goal.

It's an area which will, no doubt, come in for detailed scrutiny on the training ground as Mayo shape their championship plans. Conceding two goals in the space of a few minutes in the first half was a real setback, especially after their early surge had hinted that it might be one of those special days for the green and red.

However, their supporters in the crowd of 24,941 would have sensed the worst once Dublin switched on and so it proved as the game took a dramatic swing.

Dublin looked really good during their golden period and while their precision levels dropped in the second half they were operating in a comfort zone which may have accounted for the more sloppy aspects of their play.

Still, they finished on 2-16, a return which wins most games but it won't have gone unnoticed that Tyrone, the only team to beat Dublin in the league so far, scored 2-15 against Kildare. It all points to a high-quality shoot-out in the final next Sunday week.

Man of the match: P Mannion (Dublin)

Scorers – Dublin: P Mannion 1-4 (1f), B Brogan 0-5 (1f), J Whelan 1-1, D Connolly 0-3, D Daly, J McCaffrey, S Cluxton (1f) 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-8 (7fs), M Conroy 0-3, A O'Shea 0-2, C Carolan, K McLoughlin (1f), J Gibbons 0-1 each.

Dublin – S Cluxton 8; K O'Brien 6, J Cooper 6, P McMahon 6; J McCaffrey 7, G Brennan 8, D Daly 7; MD Macauley 7, C O'Sullivan 6; J Whelan 7, D Connolly 7, P Flynn 6; P Mannion 9, P Andrews 7, B Brogan 8. Subs: N Devereux 6 for Daly (47), D Bastick 6 for O'Sullivan (50), B Cullen 6 for Flynn (54), K McManamon 6 for Connolly (55), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (65).

Mayo – C Clarke 7; K Keane 5, G Cafferkey 7, C Barrett 6; L Keegan 6, D Vaughan 7, C Coyle 6; J Gibbons 5, S O'Shea 7; K McLoughlin 6, A O'Shea 7, C Carolan 6; C O'Connor 7, J Doherty 5, M Conroy 8. Subs: R Feeney 6 for Doherty (h-t), B Gallagher 5 for Gibbons (44), M Walsh 5 for Keane (45), A Murphy 5 for Carolan (55), E Regan for McLoughlin (65).

Ref – J McQuillan (Cavan)


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