Saturday 18 August 2018

Dubs ascend into 27th heaven as gods heap more misery on Mayo

Dublin 1-17 Mayo 1-16 - All-Ireland SFC Final

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin shoots to score his side's first goal past Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan of Dublin shoots to score his side's first goal past Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The hand of history tapped both teams on the shoulders at various stages and, having got a more welcoming smile from Dublin, it beckoned them to the inner sanctum.

Inside lay a prize reserved for a select few as they became the first county since Kerry from 1984-1986 to win an All-Ireland treble. They also ensured themselves of a place in Dublin folklore as the first team from the county to win the three-in-row for 94 years.

Paul Mannion of Dublin with the Sam Maguire cup following his side's victory during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Mannion of Dublin with the Sam Maguire cup following his side's victory during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

And since the game wasn't nearly as competitive back in the 1920s, yesterday's victory effectively elevates the squad to heights never previously reached by a team from the capital.

Misery

All-Ireland wins in 2011 and 2013 take their haul to five titles in seven seasons - and 27 overall - a remarkable success rate which few could possibly have anticipated seven years ago.

As Stephen Cluxton received the Sam Maguire Cup for the fourth time, the Mayo squad looked on in abject misery, having once against come up agonisingly short.

James McCarthy of Dublin in action against Tom Parsons of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
James McCarthy of Dublin in action against Tom Parsons of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

How much more heartbreak can they take? The 2012 final defeat by Donegal left them regretting the concession of two early goals but their sense of loss has become much more acute since then, having lost to Dublin by a single point in 2013, 2016 - following a replay - and yesterday.

Each was a tale of what might have been if they had controlled their own game a little more tidily.

Managers and players always talk about the importance of getting their own game right, rather than over-stressing about the opposition, so when Mayo come to analyse yesterday's defeat in detail, the only honest conclusion will be that they blew a glorious opportunity.

They got a whole lot right, including the decision to despatch Lee Keegan as Ciaran Kilkenny's 'minder'. With Diarmuid Connolly not starting, it freed up to Keegan to mark Kilkenny, who had been Dublin's main playmaker.

He had controlled many important phases of the semi-final clash with Tyrone but, with Keegan as his shadow, he found it all but impossible to get on the ball yesterday. His frustrating day ended on the sideline, having been shown a black card in the final minute.

Kilkenny's inability to play his way into the game short-circuited Dublin's power supplies, leaving them facing challenges they hadn't experienced all summer.

And when Keegan powered forward to fire in a goal in the 54th minute, it looked as if it might be the catalyst to inspire them to a winning finish.

They led by two points after 62 minutes but managed just one more point in the remaining 16 minutes (referee Joe McQuillan added eight minutes of stoppage time). It came from a Cillian O'Connor free in the 68th minute, bringing the sides level for the tenth time.

O'Connor had a chance to put Mayo ahead early in stoppage time but his free from the left side hit the post, with the rebound snapped up by the Dublin defence.

O'Connor's miss was close enough to the area where he was also off-target with an attempt from a free to level last year's final replay.

A few minutes later he - and his Mayo colleagues - had to watch on helplessly as Dean Rock pointed a free of his own from 38 metres after Connolly had been fouled.

It was Rock at his nerveless best, blocking out all distractions and harbouring no doubts whatsoever. Instead, he trusted his routine, executed it to perfection and watched happily as his seventh point of the day floated over the crossbar.

Therein lay a small, but crucial, difference. O'Connor missed and Rock scored in those fiercely tense stoppage time minutes. Such are the tiny margins that decide games.

Mayo will have other regrets too. They missed at least four scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes, a period in which Dublin were living off a big early break when Con O'Callaghan fired in a goal after just 85 seconds.

Given how Dublin had buried most of their opposition in the first half, their supporters might have felt it would be another easy day but that would have been to ignore Mayo's resilience.

Their experience enabled them to overcome the early setback and work their way into the game, which they did most impressively.

Andy Moran continued on the opportunist streak of recent months, scoring 0-3 in the first half; Jason Doherty looked sharp too as the Mayo attack tested Dublin in a manner they hadn't experienced since their League final defeat against Kerry in April.

Dublin had suffered an early setback when Jack McCaffrey was forced off with an injury, robbing them of a sound defensive presence and a blistering turn of pace on the counter-attack.

Pivotal

His departure boosted Mayo's prospects but missed chances meant that their one-point (0-9 to 1-5) interval lead was smaller than it should have been. That was always likely to prove pivotal in such a close game.

Dublin's six starting forwards scored only 1-2 between them from open play in the first half, testament to the defiance of Mayo's defence, led by Keegan, Chris Barrett and Keith Higgins.

Gavin had pulled a surprise when naming Eoghan O'Gara as a starter, presumably in the belief that his size would cause problems close to goal.

However, with Mayo doing well around midfield, Dublin got few opportunities to hoist high ball in O'Gara's direction.

Gavin altered the attacking strategy in the second half, sending Connolly and Kevin McManamon in for O'Gara and Paddy Andrews respectively.

It worked well. McManamon's powerful running asked tough questions of the Mayo defence while Connolly's influence grew once play opened up after an incident in the 47th minute, one which may well have cost Mayo the game.

John Small, who had already been booked, clumsily fouled Colm Boyle in what should have been a double-hit for Dublin as O'Connor would probably have pointed the free to bring the sides level and, even more importantly, left them with an extra man.

However, Donal Vaughan intervened, dumping Small to the ground, an act of petulance that resulted in the free being cancelled and a straight red card waved by the referee.

It was a real let-off for Dublin as instead of being level and a man down, they were a point ahead and beginning a 14-a-side contest.

Keegan's goal, which was expertly finished after he timed his run forward to perfection to collect Moran's pass, gave Mayo the initiative but, after pulling two points ahead, they conceded the next three to Paul Mannion, James McCarthy and Rock.

Indeed, Rock might will have gone for goal but opted for a point, presumably having noted how David Clarke had made an excellent save earlier on.

It followed an equally good block by Cluxton from Doherty just before that. Mannion and McCarthy had improved considerably in the second half, each scoring two points as well as increasing their threat levels for the Mayo defence.

Mayo took Boyle, Moran, Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin out in the second half but, unlike Dublin for whom McManamon and Connolly were the best of the replacements, Mayo's subs made no real impact.

Ultimately though, it came down to the tightest of margins, with Dublin nudging over the line, completing a treble in the most dramatic of circumstances.

As for Mayo, it leaves them facing another long, lonely winter, having once again been defeated by a solitary point in what was their ninth All-Ireland final defeat - they've also drawn two - since 1989.

Scorers -Dublin: D Rock 0-7 (3f), C O'Callaghan 1-0, P Mannion 0-3, J McCarthy 0-2, E O'Gara, J Small, K McManamon, B Fenton,D Connolly 0-1 each. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-7 (4f), A Moran 0-3, L Keegan 1-0, K McLoughlin, J Doherty 0-2 each, D Vaughan, C Boyle 0-1 each.

Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, P McMahon, J Cooper; C O'Sullivan, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, J McCarthy; D Rock, C O'Callaghan, C Kilkenny; P Mannion, E O'Gara, P Andrews. Subs: P Flynn for McCaffrey (8), D Connolly for Andrews (ht), K McManamon for O'Gara (ht), B Brogan for Flynn (65), N Scully for O'Callaghan (68), C Costello for Mannion (74),

Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, B Harrison, P Durcan; L Keegan, C Boyle, K Higgins; S O'Shea, T Parsons; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, D Vaughan; J Doherty, C O'Connor, A Moran. Subs: D O'Connor for S O'Shea (51), S Coen for Boyle ( 56), C Loftus for Moran (63), D Drake for Doherty (70), D Kirby for McLoughlin (75), G Cafferkey for Higgins (75).

Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport