Tuesday 20 August 2019

O'Callaghan seals deal with thunderous two-goal blitz

Dublin 3-14 Mayo 1-10

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Mayo. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan of Dublin celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Mayo. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Dublin footballers are now within touching distance of sporting immortality after demolishing the challenge of their greatest rivals Mayo in a one-sided All-Ireland semi-final.

The Mayo fans in a Croke Park sell-out attendance of more than 82,000 may have dared to dream at the break. Dublin actually appeared mortal in the first half as they wilted under the ferocious intensity of Mayo's tackling with James McCarthy, Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey all being stripped of possession.

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Lee Keegan of Mayo shoots to score his side's goal past Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Lee Keegan of Mayo shoots to score his side's goal past Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

They outscored Dublin 5-1 between the 16th and 36th minutes but the amber lights were already flashing. Mayo's kick- out strategy had already gone awry with half of Robbie Hennelly's ten first-half re-starts being won by Dublin.

It was from one such steal deep in injury time at the end of the half that Brian Howard kicked Dublin's first point from play for 22 minutes to leave them just two behind (0-8; 0-6) at the break.But the hallmark of all great teams is how they perform in adversity and specifically in the third quarter. Jim Gavin opted to make no changes but right from the start of the second period there was far more urgency about everything Dublin did.

The last time the Boys in Blue faced a top ranked Division 1 team was in last spring's league, which probably explains why it took them 40 minutes to adjust to the intensity levels of the game. But once they found their rhythm they exacted an awesome revenge on Mayo.

The Connacht side contributed to their woes with Chris Barrett giving away a soft free which Dean Rock - who was again immaculate with his place kicking - popped over soon after the restart. Much worse was to follow, from a Mayo perspective, less than a minute later.

Paul Mannion of Dublin in action against Brendan Harrison of Mayo. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Paul Mannion of Dublin in action against Brendan Harrison of Mayo. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Stephen Cluxton probably caused Dublin fans on Hill 16 a moment of anxiety when he punched a dropping shot from Paddy Durcan - who, along with Colm Boyle, had been the most influential player on the field in the first half - across an open goal.

Dublin got the ball clear and worked it along the Cusack Stand side before suddenly accelerating the pace of their passing, with Ciaran Kilkenny giving the final assist to Con O'Callaghan, who was marked by Lee Keegan. Crucially, he had stolen a yard on him and the Cuala man scored another vital goal for Dublin.

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During the next ten minutes Mayo couldn't get into the Dublin half as the All-Ireland champions pressed up on Rob Hennelly's restarts, forcing him to go long and Dublin won five in a row as they turned the screw on James Horan's side. Paul Mannion was magnificent in this period. He had kicked two first-half points but also hit two wides in that period. But he showed his class in the third quarter with three wonderful strikes in a six-minute spell.

By the time he kicked his fifth point from play the game was effectively over as a contest as Dublin struck for their second goal. A frustrated Cillian O'Connor gave away a free on the Hogan Stand side between the 65 and 45-metre lines, which earned him a booking.

Ciaran Kilkenny floated the free in to the far post, where O'Callaghan rose unchallenged to claim it before waltzing past Keegan and making no mistake from close range. In 11 minutes Dublin had scored 2-6 without reply to go 10 points clear and essentially book their place in next month's decider against the winners of today's second semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone.

Mayo had kicked just one wide in the first half compared to four for Dublin. But when they finally got their hands on the ball in the second half they were guilty of woeful shooting - hitting six wides compared to two for Dublin.

Colm Boyle continued to drive Mayo forward, even when all hope was gone, and they got some respite in the 51st minute with a brilliant goal from Lee Keegan, who got inside the Dublin full-back line and deftly side-footed the ball past Cluxton. It was the first goal Dublin had conceded from open play in the 2019 championship.

But Dublin don't gave up big leads and it's a measure of Mayo's overall poverty in attack that their first point of the second half arrived seven minutes from the end of normal time via defender Stephen Coen.

By then Dublin had scored their third goal. This time, man of the match Con O'Callaghan - now being marked by Mayo substitute Eoin O'Donoghue - was the provider. The referee played an excellent advantage which allowed O'Callaghan to link up with Brian Fenton who beat Hennelly from close range.

What kept the fans in their seats until the end was the possibility of Diarmuid Connolly making a late appearance, and Jim Gavin didn't disappoint, sending on the St Vincent's player along with Paddy Andrews in injury time. Both sides finished the game with 14 men after Cillian O'Connor was sent off on a second yellow while Cormac Costello was black carded.

This was Dublin's biggest win in championship football over Mayo this decade. They had beaten them by seven in the 2015 semi-final replay. It bore the hallmarks of the end of an era in a rivalry, which has dominated Gaelic football this decade.

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