Tuesday 20 August 2019

Shock and awe puts Dublin's drive for five within touching distance

Dublin 3-14  Mayo 1-10

Brian Fenton slips the ball under Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly to score Dublin’s third goal. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brian Fenton slips the ball under Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly to score Dublin’s third goal. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The GAA is immersing itself in a debate on a two-tier championship structure over the next couple of months with the aim of creating a more competitive environment for all counties.

The divide, post provincial championships, will lie between the second and third divisions of the league but the greatest chasm has opened, not in the middle of the pack but at the very top where Dublin have distanced themselves so far from the rest that they are now out of sight.

Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin evades the clutches of Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin evades the clutches of Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

If it wasn't obvious before, it became patently obvious on Saturday evening when their greatest rivals in a decade of dominance were ruthlessly dismissed in a devastating 12-minute spell to suck the life out of what had shaped to be another absorbing All-Ireland semi-final.

Mayo did everything asked of them and more in the opening half when they put Dublin on the back foot repeatedly, stripped some of their totemic figures of ball with the ferocity of their approach and managed their possession so economically to lead by 0-8 to 0-6 at the break.

But in an instant, it was all gone, a smash and grab that will surely rank as the peak for this Dublin team.

Their 2016 All-Ireland semi-final second half against Kerry and second quarter of last year's All-Ireland final against Tyrone were previous high points but these were surpassed here.

Disrespectful

Quite simply, Dublin are playing a different game to the rest and to any other team before them and while it might sound disrespectful to their opponents and even themselves and their investment of effort into such careful preparation, they have reduced another All-Ireland title to a formality.

It is a measure of their individual and collective talent that they can do this to a team like Mayo in such a short spell.

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Mayo had got so much right in the opening half. Paddy Durcan locked on to Jack McCaffrey and, just as he had done with Ryan McHugh a week earlier, turned the tables on McCaffrey's attacking raids to pop over two first-half points.

Colm Boyle was indomitable at times, digging ball from the bottom of rucks one moment, charging forward to kick an inspiring 45-metre point with the outside of his right boot in another. He is the pulse of the team. Positioning himself beside Boyle, Aidan O'Shea put a lot of ball through his hands.

Lee Keegan was always their defensive trump card and by detailing him to pick up Con O'Callaghan instead of Ciarán Kilkenny, it was clear where they felt the most pressing threat would come from. They really didn't have another option.

Yet O'Callaghan could never be quelled completely and soon after the restart he had bent the game to his will, a quick change of gears and direction wrong-footing Keegan as he read Kilkenny's thinking perfectly to find a channel and slip beneath Rob Hennelly for a two-point lead.

Ironically, the move had started with Stephen Cluxton rising to keep out a Durcan shot that, with a little more flight, could have restored Mayo's two-point lead. The swing was vicious though and it didn't stop there. Brian Fenton, subdued in the first half, stormed into it, delivering his best half of football to embellish his reputation as the finest midfielder in the game since Jack O'Shea. To think his career is still only five seasons old!

Niall Scully drove over with a goal at his mercy and with Keegan on a yellow O'Callaghan sensed the kill, once more availing of an astute Kilkenny delivery from a free outfield to sidestep his more cautious marker and beat Hennelly low again.

In all that time Mayo struggled to get out of their own half as Dublin squeezed their kick-out, winning four in succession to cause sufficient chaos. It was as if a pall of smoke had descended on Mayo and as they coughed and spluttered, they lost their sense of direction.

When Paul Mannion, perhaps the most elegant kicker of a ball in the game, struck for a glorious point, his fifth, on 47 minutes, Dublin went 2-12 to 0-8 clear, a 12-point swing in as many minutes.

Mayo did recover some ground. Keegan may have had a torrid third quarter on O'Callaghan but he still got forward for a third goal in successive SFC games against Dublin. For a defender that's a remarkable return.

But there was more punishment with Fenton ghosting through for a third Dublin goal - a third created by Kilkenny - and a third for him personally this season. Between himself and Michael Darragh Macauley, they have now contributed six of Dublin's 16 goals so far from midfield.

Mayo had brought Matthew Ruane and Diarmuid O'Connor, out injured for most of the summer, back in despite their lack of game-time while Donal Vaughan also started, the clear intention being to add extra physical presence and mobility around the middle and hold something in reserve with Kevin McLoughlin, Fergal Boland and Darren Coen taken out of the original team.

But Vaughan and O'Connor's impact was minimal and the shock and awe nature of Dublin's approach thieved any potential bench impact.

It ended a little chaotically for Mayo with indiscipline spilling over. Cillian O'Connor had been aiming high with his tackles all afternoon but when Davy Byrne kicked a ball away after a free had been conceded late on, O'Connor charged him and floored him.

It was nasty and he picked up a second yellow. But it should have been a straight red. Substitute Eoin O'Donoghue and Kevin McLoughlin were lucky to avoid red cards too as frustration boiled over. Not to be outdone, Dublin sub Cormac Costello added to his bulging catalogue of added time cards when he saw black for tripping Aidan O'Shea off the ball.

What now for Mayo? All told, it's been a decent season with a league win and plenty of new players introduced for the future. But on the other side of the age spectrum there will be closure for a few, maybe even quite a few. Their manager James Horan conceded as much afterwards, an indication of the direction he may feel he has to travel now.

Injuries didn't help, neither did a schedule that saw them out on seven of the last eight weekends, something Horan registered mild displeasure at in his post-match assessment.

For Dublin, five-in-a-row beckons. They are an incredible team that can adapt to any circumstance and react to any situation. But their dominance, which has no end in sight, is casting a long shadow over the game and the fabric of the inter-county structure.

Scorers - Dublin: C O'Callaghan 2-0; D Rock 0-6 (6f); P Mannion 0-5; B Fenton 1-1; B Howard, N Scully 0-1 each. Mayo: L Keegan 1-0; C O'Connor 0-3 (2f); P Durcan 0-2; S Coen, C Boyle, S O'Shea, F Boland, J Carr all 0-1 each.

Dublin - S Cluxton; D Byrne, J Cooper, M Fitzsimons; J McCaffrey, J McCarthy, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; P Mannion, D Rock, C O'Callaghan. Subs: C O'Sullivan for MacAuley (49), E Murchan for Small (62), C Costello for Mannion inj (66), P McMahon for Cooper (68), D Connolly for Scully (71), P Andrews for O'Callaghan inj (71).

Mayo - R Hennelly: L Keegan, C Barrett, B Harrison; S Coen, C Boyle, D Vaughan; M Ruane, S O'Shea; F McDonagh, A O'Shea, P Durcan; J Carr, C O'Connor, D O'Connor. Subs: K Higgins for Vaughan (29), K McLoughlin for McDonagh (49), A Moran for Carr (52), E O'Donoghue for Boyle (57), T Parsons for S O'Shea (61), F Boland for D O'Connor (68).

Ref - C Lane (Cork)

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