Martin Breheny: Gavin's Dubs refuse to buckle as iron will drags them over line
Brogan instincts and Mayo profligacy enough for below-par Sky Blues to conquer
THE All-Ireland and Allianz National League titles will winter in Dublin for the first time since 1976 after Jim Gavin's adventurers clinched the second leg of the double in a photo-finish with Mayo in Croke Park.
Dublin 2-12 Mayo 1-14
Dublin did it the hard way, struggling through a first half where their performance level was well down on previous outings and hanging on grimly at the end as Mayo charged on in a desperate attempt to manufacture an equaliser.
Two pointed frees by Cillian O'Connor in stoppage-time cut the margin to a single point, but with every green and red supporter in the crowd of 82,274 willing referee Joe McQuillan to allow another minute of injury time, the final whistle sounded before Mayo could summon one last effort for salvation.
Instead, they were left with that horrible empty feeling which has become their September calling card. This was their seventh All-Ireland final defeat in the last 24 years, each one bringing its own special brand of desolation.
Yesterday's setback will rank high up the misery list, complete with the unquestionable reality that they contributed significantly to their own demise. In particular, they will reflect painfully on a first half, where they failed to exploit a sizeable possession advantage.
They got into their stride much quicker than an edgy Dublin side that managed a single point in the opening 15 minutes. In fact, Dublin should have been scoreless but Ger Cafferkey gifted Diarmuid Connolly a sixth-minute point with a misdirected free-kick.
Dublin were pinned back in their own half for long stretches and with the free count running very much against them too (it was 7-0 to Mayo after 12 minutes), they looked a lot more stressed than at any time this season.
Mayo led by 0-4 to 0-1 after 15 minutes but undid all of their good work a minute later when Paul Flynn's punt was flicked to the net by Bernard Brogan.
He was outnumbered as the ball dropped in the Mayo square but still managed to beat Cafferkey and Robert Hennelly to the flick which left the ball nestling in the Mayo net.
It was a serious knockback for Mayo and while their response was impressive – they kicked three unanswered points in seven minutes – they would still have felt that their lead was nowhere as substantial as it should have been.
The Dublin attack wasn't firing well either. They lost Paul Mannion to a hamstring injury after just 15 minutes and with the Mayo defence filling the channels most effectively, Dublin were struggling for scores.
They took several wrong options too, passing to a player who was already well marked or misdirecting passes, while Jim Gavin must have been ankle-deep in frustration after watching a few kicks drop gently into Hennelly's arms.
Still, he would have been happy to take them into the dressing-room for the half-time reorganisation with only a one-point deficit (0-8 to 1-4) to contend with. They hadn't really functioned with the fluency which had underpinned so much of their work this year but, at the same time, they had not been punished.
That had to be a big worry for James Horan as it was always likely that Dublin would improve in the second half. It happened quite quickly with Cian O'Sullivan, who gave a fine performance initially at midfield and later at corner-back, kicking a point in the 37th minute.
Dublin kicked four more over the next 11 minutes with an O'Connor point from a free Mayo's sole response. It left them trailing by 1-9 to 0-9 in the 48th minute after a 22-minute spell during which they had scored only one point.
It was a worrying time for Mayo but captain Andy Moran restored confidence with a well-finished goal in the 50th minute. With Mayo carrying so much experience from last year's final, their supporters would have felt that Moran's goal could be the big breakthrough they needed but, instead, it brought no more than temporary relief.
The next score was always going to be hugely important and so it proved. A crisp forward move by Dublin ended with Bernard Brogan flicking the ball to the net for his second goal in the 54th minute, which ultimately proved to be the tie-breaker.
Mayo cut the lead to two points on four occasions in the final 15 minutes before eventually narrowing it to one but time ran out on them, just as it had done in 1996 when they lost the All-Ireland final replay by a point to Meath.
Yesterday's defeat will leave them equally miserable since Mayo will feel that once again they didn't do themselves justice on the biggest day of all.
Some of the high performers of previous games had an indifferent day, including midfielder Aidan O'Shea, who didn't assert himself with anything like the authority he had shown all summer.
Full-forward Alan Freeman was taken off after 27 minutes, having lost the battle with Rory O'Carroll. Gavin was forced into early repair work when Mannion limped out and he continued the adjustments at half-time when he sent Darren Daly in for Jack McCaffrey.
Ciaran Kilkenny was next to be replaced (42 minutes) leaving Dublin without three of the bright young stars who had shone so brightly all season. Dublin had used all five subs by the three-quarter stage, a situation that could have cost them dearly after Eoghan O'Gara picked up a hamstring injury and O'Carroll took a very heavy knock in a tackle for which he was booked.
Both were forced to play on but were way below full capacity, which added to the workload for their colleagues. Subs Dean Rock, Kevin McManamon and Denis Bastick all did well in the final quarter as Dublin grafted tirelessly to protect their lead.
In the end, it had been cut to a single point but as in 1995 and 2011, when they beat Tyrone and Kerry respectively, it was enough to land the big prize. They also won the league final against Tyrone by a point last April.
Surviving in tight finishes points to a steely mental resolve, which was certainly required yesterday. As for Mayo, it was 1996-97 revisited, having again lost successive All-Ireland finals.
The double defeat in the 1990s set them back quite some way and it now remains to be seen how they react to the latest setback. They blamed their defeat by Donegal last year on the concession of two early goals, but they have no such excuse this time.
Yesterday offered them an opportunity to accumulate a sizeable first-half deposit but they failed to do so.
They might have got away with it against lesser opposition but were always going to be punished by Dublin, once they got their game going.
And so it proved in a game which didn't quite live up to expectations which had been created by the high-scoring exploits of both sides in their impressive marches to the final.
scorers – Dublin: B Brogan 2-3 (1f), E O'Gara, S Cluxton (1 '45', 1f) 0-2 each, D Connolly, P Andrews, G Brennan, C O'Sullivan, P Flynn 0-1 each Mayo: C O'Connor 0-8 (8fs), A Moran 1-2, L Keegan 0-2, S O'Shea, K Higgins 0-1 each
Dublin – S Cluxton; P McMahon, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan. Subs: E O'Gara for Mannion (15), D Daly for McCaffrey (h-t), D Rock for Kilkenny (42), K McManamon for Andrews (49), D Bastick for Cooper (53).
Mayo – R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, K Higgins, A Dillon; C O'Connor, A Freeman, A Moran. Subs: M Conroy for Freeman (27), C Carolan for Cunniffe (h-t), E Varley for Dillon (56), B Moran for S O'Shea (60), J Doherty for A Moran (68).
Ref – J McQuillan (Cavan)