Battle-hardened Dubs work it all out
Dublin 0-9 Mayo 0-7
Mayo supporters hunched their collars against the bitterly cold February night and left MacHale Park with rising spirits after watching their side deliver a performance which was infinitely better than the dismal effort against Cork six days earlier.
Down in the dressing-room, the Mayo squad and management shared in the improved sentiment while also realising that however spirited the attempt to unhinge the All-Ireland champions may have been, it still ended in defeat.
"While we talk about reaction (to the Cork defeat), ultimately we didn't get the two points. We don't do moral victories in that dressing-room," said new manager Stephen Rochford.
The three-week break before the next game, a tough away assignment against Donegal, is a godsend for Rochford, who has much to do as he attempts to impose his personal philosophies on the squad.
It would have been a big challenge under any circumstance but having had to launch it without several big-name performers, who are either injured or club-tied, hanging in there was about the best Mayo could hope for in the early stages of the League.
They didn't come close against Cork, but were altogether more robust, physically and mentally, on Saturday night when the only real difference between the sides was in experience and in that valuable ability to work through problems in difficult conditions.
Dublin had both attributes in plentiful abundance and used them very intelligently to chisel out a second League win. Their steadiness under pressure was most in evidence in the second half when, after extending the slender interval lead (0-4 to 0-3) to three points in the 47th minute, Dublin embarked on a holding operation, which they successfully negotiated.
It wasn't pretty but then Castlebar on a windy night, with icy showers intermittently squalling across the pitch, is no place for artistic finery.
Composure was the key, according to Jim Gavin, who remains unbeaten in eight League and Championship meetings with Mayo over four seasons.
"We showed good control. There's a great spirit in the camp and they're enjoying their football. I thought that showed in the final quarter when, under difficult conditions, they passed the ball around and closed the game out," he said.
Mayo twice pared the lead back to two points in the final 10 minutes but, just as Dublin found scores hard to come by in the first half, Mayo struggled in the second half.
That seven of the 16 scores came against the wind gives a fair indication of the game's pattern. Dublin battered Mayo's ramparts in the first half but found the home defence so well set up that it was very difficult to get into the shooting zone.
Meanwhile, Mayo troubled Dublin on breakout attacks. Indeed, a superb point from a '45', driven powerfully into the wind by Robert Hennelly, gave Mayo the lead (0-3 to 0-2) after 27 minutes before Denis Bastick and Dean Rock countered with points before the break.
Mayo supporters in the 10,520 crowd might have thought the elements could be harnessed in a really positive way in the second half but their players found it just as difficult as Dublin had before the break.
Dublin's defensive set-up was structurally solid and, when backed up by the confidence which courses through everything they do, it was no surprise that they managed the game through to a successful conclusion.
Mayo posted Aidan O'Shea close to the Dublin goal in the final quarter but he got little joy against a massed defence. And, on one occasion when he got possession and appeared to be fouled, referee Padraig Hughes ruled against him. It was a harsh decision, which summed up a frustrating night for O'Shea.
Tempers boiled over in stoppage-time when two separate rows erupted, after which Colm Boyle and John Small were sent off on second yellow cards.
Dublin had also lost Philly McMahon, a pre-match replacement for Cian O'Sullivan, as early as the third minute when he tripped O'Shea as he cut across him.
McMahon was priming himself for another 'up close and deeply personal' engagement with O'Shea but over-stepped the mark and paid the price.
Losing a player of his stature would have been a blow to a weaker panel but Dublin were able to replace McMahon with Jack McCaffrey, last year's Footballer of the Year.
Such strength in depth is a big part of the Dublin success story and while Mayo are fairly well endowed too, it's not quite at that level.
Still, there was some good news for Mayo when Keith Higgins returned to action in the second half and exerted considerable influence.
Others are on the mend too, although Rochford said that it would be much closer to the Donegal game before a clearer picture emerged.
His debrief from Saturday night will be much more positive than the post-Cork experience but he was still left with some regrets from a game where picking up even one point would have been a huge boost.
"Dublin know how to close out a game," he said.
The All-Ireland and League champions know a lot more than that and, after beating two of their biggest rivals in the opening games, are well-placed to drive on next month.
"Winter football - that's what you saw out there," said Gavin. It still ended in a Dublin win though.
Man of the match: James McCarthy
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-4 (3fs, 1 '45'), J McCarthy, E O Conghaile, D Connolly, D Bastick, C Costello 0-1 each. Mayo: E Regan 0-3 (2fs), R Hennelly (2 '45s'), D O'Connor 0-2 each.
Dublin - S Cluxton 7; J Cooper 7, M Fitzsimons 7, D Byrne 7; J McCarthy 8, P McMahon NA, J Small 7; E O Conghaile 7, D Bastick 6; T Brady 6, D Connolly 6, C Kilkenny 6; P Mannion 6, D Rock 7, P Andrews 6. Subs: J McCaffrey 7 for McMahon (BC, 3), S Carthy 6 for Bastick (ht), C Reddin 6 for Brady (46), C Costello) 7 for Mannion (53), P Ryan for Andrews (64), D Daly for Cooper (BC 70).
Mayo - R Hennelly 7; B Harrison 7, G Cafferkey 7, C Crowe 7; D Vaughan 6, C Boyle 7, S Nally 7; T Parsons 7, A O'Shea 6; D O'Connor 7, M Hall 6, J Doherty 6; E Regan 6, C O'Shea 6, M Sweeney 6. Subs: J Gibbons 6 for Parsons (ht), D Drake 6 for Vaughan (42), K Higgins 7 for Hall (53), C Carolan 6 for Sweeney (57), D McHale for C O'Shea (67), S McHale for Nally (70).
Ref - P Hughes (Armagh)
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