Thursday 19 September 2019

Dublin v Mayo - Conor McKeon looks at the history of Gaelic football's greatest 21st century rivalry

Thrilling games, red cards, black cards, allegations of cynicism and a flying GPS pack all part of the growing Dublin v Mayo legend

Lee Keegan tries to distract Dean Rock by throwing a GPS unit into his path at the climax of the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
Lee Keegan tries to distract Dean Rock by throwing a GPS unit into his path at the climax of the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Was it the 'Mill at the Hill' in 2006 or is the Dublin/Mayo needle a 21st century creation?

Since 2010, they've produced eight red cards, claims and counter-claims of cynicism and even the use of a GPS pack as a projectile.

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As a purely sporting rivalry, it doesn't check out.

This decade has been a time in which Dublin have mopped up All-Ireland after All-Ireland while Mayo have landed excruciatingly short, season after season after season.

In 18 meetings since 2010, Dublin have won 13 and three others have been drawn.

It's coming up on seven years since Mayo last recorded a victory in the fixture yet their propensity to a) get up Dublin's noses and b) force them into the sort of awkward situations only Kerry have also occasionally managed has defined this as the decade's defining football rivalry.


IN the week beforehand, Pat Gilroy transmitted a subliminal message to referee Joe McQuillan about Mayo's newly-acquired habit for blocking opposition runners off-the-ball.

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James Horan meanwhile, used his pre-match press conference to publicly question whether McQuillan refereeing internal Dublin challenge matches in the past made his appointment a conflict of interest.

When the game started, Dublin were flat and Mayo had a day of days, bisecting the post from poor angles and great distance to open up a ten-point lead.

Dublin came hurtling back but a mixture of David Clarke's brilliant reflexes and an exhibition of orchestrated cynicism kept Mayo ahead.

Although they didn't technically break any rules, questions were raised after Mayo made three permanent blood substitutions, bringing the total number of changes they made in-game to eight.

Enda Varley meanwhile, had his nose broken in an off-the-ball incident. A terrible beauty is born.


A year on and all the rivalry lacked really was a bit of originality.

Here, in Jim Gavin's first senior All-Ireland final as Dublin manager, we had accusations of cynicism and criticism of McQuillan - again.

"Not only were we playing Mayo but we were playing the referee as well," fumed Gavin after Dublin had secured the first All-Ireland of his reign in a bruising one-point (2-12 to 1-14) victory in which the free count finished 32/12 in Mayo's favour.

"At the end, that was just Dublin players getting frustrated," Gavin added, citing mitigation for the late spree of fouling in the lead up to the full-time whistle, with Rory O'Carroll concussed and Eoghan O'Gara playing the last 10 minutes with a snapped hamstring.

Horan wasn't amused.

"I find that amazing," was his reaction when Gavin's comments were relayed the following morning.

"I know Jim made another interesting comment, that he'd walk away if his team were cynical, so maybe that's another comment Jim should look at…"

2015 All-Ireland semi-final

"I was headbutted alright but that's not for me to enforce the rules," shrugged Aidan O'Shea as he stood outside the Mayo dressing-room after a draw that represented a high watermark for naked physicality between the counties this decade.

"There were plenty more things out there the ref missed too."

After examining video evidence, the CCCC found that there was no case to answer in the O'Shea incident although later, Philly McMahon admitted: "The camera view actually looked like I did do it."

Diarmuid Connolly is red-carded but later cleared as his Punch-and-Judy routine with marker Lee Keegan begins to attract attention.

Rory O'Carroll leaves the field after four minutes as a blood sub but never reappears, requiring 10 stitches.

A week later, McMahon scores 1-2 in the replay as Mayo squander a four-point lead and Dublin make their third final in five years.

2016 All-Ireland final draw

One of the more bizarre All-Ireland finals in recent memory.

Just 25 minutes into the game in which Dublin are blessed with the remarkable boon of two Mayo own goals, James McCarthy is issued a black card by Conor Lane for a challenge on Cillian O'Connor which the Cork official interprets as a body check.

"One of the biggest days of your life, to be over like that, it's very disappointing," McCarthy admits later, although his immediate reaction was rage.

It was the third time that season a player was black-carded in contentious circumstances for an incident involving the then Mayo captain, following Galway's Tom Flynn in Mayo's Connacht SFC loss and then Darran O'Sullivan in the All-Ireland semi-final.

2016 All-Ireland final replay

By the time '15 had come around, Mayo had identified Connolly as Dublin's most creative threat and Lee Keegan as their chief destroyer.

About his part in the 2015 incident for which Connolly was sent off but later exonerated after being hauled to the ground, Keegan reflected: "I'm going to try to stop him any way I can to win the game for Mayo. We've been told before we're a bit of a soft touch."

Keegan's candour was admirable but it attracted greater attention to his methods and in the run-up to the '16 final, many former Dublin players interviewed decried the lack of protection Connolly was being afforded by referees.

Mayo smelled a rat.

After scoring a brilliant first half goal, Keegan is caught the wrong side of Connolly early in the second after a bad kick-out from Robbie Hennelly and drags the St Vincent's man down.

Maurice Deegan issues a black card.

In his report to Mayo's annual convention in 2016, county board PRO Paul Cunnane wrote: "In the lead-up to the All-Ireland final replay there was a well-orchestrated media campaign to blacken Lee Keegan's name and I would be disappointed that many media outlets chose to take the bait."

In an unexpected twist, it later emerges that Connolly sent Keegan a pair of football boots made by New Balance, his former employers, in the run up to Christmas 2016.

2017 All-Ireland final

APPROXIMATELY an hour after the final whistle, footage circulates appearing to show Keegan throwing a small black object in the direction of Dean Rock as he strikes the winning free in the 76th minute.

The UFO is determined to be Keegan's GPS pack, tossed in a deliberate attempt to distract Rock.

Cue outrage, although the Dublin forward brushes off the incident while Keegan is unperturbed by the reaction.

"I always say, 'If you were in my shoes, what would people have done? Would they have come up with something else'?" says Keegan.

"Obviously it's very unsportsmanlike and I totally accept that. But, I suppose, you're looking into losing your fourth All-Ireland…"

After Rock's kick sails over the bar, Ciarán Kilkenny drags Keegan to the ground and holds him down to prevent David Clarke taking a short free kick.

Kilkenny is black-carded in the second most controversial incident of a game in which two players (John Small and Donal Vaughan) are sent off, Dublin win by a point and the game instantly enters the annals of GAA history as one of the great All-Ireland finals.

"Any man is willing to do what he can for his county," Kilkenny says days later in a hauntingly familiar refrain.

"If you were there in the last minute of an All-Ireland final, what would you do?"

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