Tuesday 20 August 2019

Only the end of the world can impede Dublin's drive for five

Sky Blues' destruction of Mayo confirms what we probably already knew

Bested: Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly is tackled by Con O'Callaghan of Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Bested: Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly is tackled by Con O'Callaghan of Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

History beckons. On September 1, barring an unforeseen event or occurrence - the end of the world maybe - Dublin will be crowned All-Ireland champions for the fifth year in succession. Of course, anything can happen in sport, as witnessed when the ball shook the raindrops from Charlie Nelligan's net in the dying moments of the 1982 final.

But still. Dublin are a good distance beyond the field. This team has forgotten what it is like to lose.

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Paul Mannion is the ultimate Dublin player, the prodigious talent matched by selfless work ethic. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Mannion is the ultimate Dublin player, the prodigious talent matched by selfless work ethic. Photo: Sportsfile

For a while yesterday they had a sense of their own mortality. Of all the counties that have crossed Dublin's path since they began hoovering up All-Irelands, Mayo had been the one to unsettle them most. For half of a sell-out semi-final they produced a performance in keeping with that reputation but Dublin's dominance in the second half contained a ruthlessness that Mayo could neither match nor live with.

From leading and looking strong at half-time, it went from Mayo in an instant. They spent the first half building their house, brick by brick. They went off the pitch at half-time entitled to feel more than satisfied with how it looked. And then they returned and watched with increasing disbelief and helplessness as Dublin demolished what they had spent so long carefully constructing in a few blinks of an eye.

The brutal outline of that violent usurping of Mayo's notions of an upset were as follows: Dublin clipped the Mayo lead down to a point with a Dean Rock free in the opening minute after half-time.

A minute after, Lee Keegan, pinned to Con O'Callaghan through the first half, lost the Cuala man as Ciaran Kilkenny sent a fist pass into an empty corridor. O'Callaghan has blazed a few goal chances over the bar recently. This time he aimed low, a bullet to the Mayo net. Immediately the stadium soundtrack changed. Only for a brief while did Mayo again make their presence heard. From there, Dublin followers knew they had the match in their grip and their team had found the venom. They played as if insulted by the poverty of their own first-half display, but it would be unfair to dismiss the monumental effort that Mayo put in to make them feel that way.

Two minutes after O'Callaghan's goal, with Dublin rampant, Kilkenny set Niall Scully free and the point was a mercy for Mayo, who could have been picking the ball out of their net again. They couldn't get the leather out of their own half and during this frenzy they cried out for a player to go down, kill the momentum, stop the madness. Instead, three more Dublin points. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Two came from Paul Mannion, a beautiful kicker of a ball, making life hell for Brendan Harrison even though the Mayo defender was usually as close as humanly possible when the Dubliner got possession. In the first half, when Dublin couldn't buy a score, Mannion kicked two and narrowly missed a third. He is the ultimate Dublin player, the prodigious talent, matched by a selfless work ethic and boundless energy.

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And so, already having conceded 1-5 and looking suitably bewildered, Mayo were hit by a second O'Callaghan goal. This one was doubly wretched for James Horan, watching from the sideline like a man seeing his fortune squandered, The scorer, now full of pluck, sold Keegan a dummy, making him look foolish, and then planted a shot to the net. For good measure he bumped into Keegan a few times on the way back to base, as much to inform the Westport man that resistance was futile.

And it was, hard as Mayo continued to try. They went upfield and began to shoot wides, each one jeered by the Dublin followers standing behind the goal on the Hill. They were ten points behind when Keegan made an incursion with 51 minutes played and hooked the ball past Stephen Cluxton.

Seven down, Mayo followers made some noise - but this wasn't 2006. There is no way back from a deficit like that with the Dublin of today.

Brian Fenton, well contained in the first half, and booked, seemed to derive great relish from his goal in the 61st minute and he could have had another six minutes later, only to be denied by a brilliant Rob Hennelly save. In the end 10 points was the difference, with Dublin having trailed by three late in the first half.

Is it even worth revisiting the first half? Mayo did little wrong and dominated. Their match-ups were effective. Colm Boyle marked Kilkenny to the point where it's doubtful the Dubliner had as quiet a half since becoming a county player. Boyle kicked a fine score for good measure. Patrick Durcan followed on from Donegal with an outstanding half, blotting out Jack McCaffrey and kicking two points. Keegan stamped out the threat of O'Callaghan. At different points O'Callaghan, Fenton, Michael Darragh Macauley and Kilkenny were turned over.

Mayo forced Dublin back into their own half for the majority of the play and showed no signs of fatigue having played Donegal in Castlebar a week before in heavy conditions. But it all seemed illusory in the finish. Half a loaf is better than no bread, the old saying goes. But it can't apply in this instance. A good half ended up being of no use to Mayo, whose defeat goes into the same catalogue as the semi-final loss to Dublin in 2015 and the one-point losses in All-Ireland finals in '13, '16 and '17. They lost Cillian O'Connor to a red card with a few minutes left and by then, whatever fear Mayo might have incited in Dublin followers, had long been banished.

When Diarmuid Connolly came on they raised it a few decibels more. Do we need to add it is theirs to lose?

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