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Stephen Rochford explains why Mayo 'don't be at their best' in the early rounds of League

Dublin 2-10 Mayo 0-12

Mayo boss Stephen Rochford and (inset) Dean Rock and Lee Keegan after the game
Mayo boss Stephen Rochford and (inset) Dean Rock and Lee Keegan after the game
Paul Mannion scores Dublin’s first goal against Mayo at Elverys MacHale Park. Photo: Sportsfile

independent.ie Sportsdesk

Same teams, same old story. Except there wasn't much of a story to begin with at Castlebar on Saturday night.

It was Shakespeare-lite: Dublin/Mayo without any of the drama.

You had some famous cast members returning to the stage - Lee Keegan parachuted in for his first start since double hip surgery, his old buddy Diarmuid Connolly added to the Dublin subs and making his seasonal baptism - but none of the attendant fireworks.

You instinctively knew after 80 seconds, when Paul Mannion roofed a shot past Robert Hennelly, that this wasn't going to end well for Mayo.

The glass half-full version for our All-Ireland bridesmaids is that they 'only' lost by four points while missing three-fifths of their September '15'; consequently, there will be little lasting damage to their veneer of self-belief if it comes to a late summer rematch.

And the glass half-empty? Dublin only won by four because that kept the scoreboard accountants happy.

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

They ambled through the last 25 minutes after Niall Scully had outjumped Hennelly to fist home their second goal in the 47th minute.

Thereafter they kept ball and kept their powder dry, while a makeshift Mayo lacked the attacking ingenuity - or the freetaking acumen, minus the suspended Cillian O'Connor - to ask any awkward late questions.

Dublin weren't totally unfazed - Mick Fitzsimons picked up an injury-time straight red for an airborne lunge that caught Aidan O'Shea - but it was certainly a case of 'job done, move on' for Jim Gavin afterwards.

"Our first half performance gave us that platform - 1-9 on the board at half-time," he pointed out.

"And they came out in the second half and played very much a containment game, very defensively, and we probably mirrored that off the ball, and held them scoreless I think from play.

"In some ways we just had to run the clock down, which we did."

This was familiar terrain for the Dublin manager, whose unbeaten record against Mayo now extends to ten victories and three draws. Almost as familiar is Dublin's current rude health in the Division 1 pecking order: a maximum eight points ahead of next Saturday's Croke Park shindig with Kerry, their seemingly serene march towards a sixth consecutive league final still firmly on course.

Equally familiar, for Stephen Rochford, was the fielding of questions about Mayo's grim league record at Elverys MacHale Park: they've now lost six from nine on his watch.

This latest reversal leaves Mayo still stuck on two points and mired in the relegation trenches ahead of next Sunday's crucial visit to fellow strugglers Kildare.

And yet Rochford, while stressing his disappointment at the outcome, sounded relatively sanguine.

"A defeat is a defeat whether we have it here or in another venue. We aren't happy about our home record but we will go about trying to improve on that against Tyrone," he said.

But why is it so poor? "We don't be at our best in the early rounds," he answered. "Over the last three or four years we've had a longer winter period due to our summer exploits, so we are going to be that bit slower out of the blocks than some teams. So that definitely has an effect."

At least, he concluded, the performance was an improvement on their previous loss in Galway.

Mayo played their part in an engaging first half, during which Dublin's greater enterprise and inside menace was reflected in a 1-9 to 0-7 advantage.

Mannion (until pulling up with a hamstring injury) showed signs of continuing the electrifying form of last summer.

It was a chastening first half for Eoin O'Donoghue, who has staked his claim in the absence of so many marquee Mayo defenders this spring.

In eerie echoes of last September, Dublin's first goal arrived on 80 seconds and it stemmed from O'Donoghue being caught on the wrong side of Mannion.

Even from such a tightly angled position it proved fatal, as the Kilmacud flyer raced in from the right before pulling the trigger.

Ciarán Kilkenny blazed over when a second early goal beckoned, but Mayo had their moments too. A spectacular mark from Aidan O'Shea, one of their better performers, led to something of a collector's item: a right-footed point from Kevin McLoughlin.

For Mayo to rattle Dublin's composure, they needed the catalyst of a goal - but Adam Gallagher fired their only chance wide within a minute of the restart. That, coupled with Scully's goal, sucked the life out of their challenge.

A turgid second half can be summed up by the following: Mayo's five converted frees outscored Dublin's 1-1.

Three injury-time efforts from sub Conor Loftus gave the hosts that dubious moral victory, but only after Jason Doherty (with two ballooned wides), Andy Moran and Hennelly had all missed earlier frees.

Time to take Cillian off the frees? Think again.

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-6 (4f), P Mannion 1-1, N Scully 1-0, C Kilkenny 0-2, B Fenton 0-1. Mayo: J Doherty (3f), C Loftus (3f) 0-3 each, K McLoughlin 0-2, L Keegan, A Moran, S Coen, R Hennelly (f) 0-1 each.

Dublin - S Cluxton 7; D Daly 7, M Fitzsimons 6, D Byrne 6; J Cooper 7, J McCarthy 7, J Small 6; B Fenton 7, MD Macauley 6; N Scully 7, C Kilkenny 7, B Howard 5; K McManamon 5, P Mannion 8, D Rock 8. Subs: D Connolly 6 for Macauley (44), C O'Sullivan 7 for Small (44), C Basquel 6 for Mannion (inj 44), C Reddin 6 for Howard (61), P Small for Cooper (64), E Ó Conghaile for Fenton (69).

Mayo - R Hennelly 6; G Cafferkey 6, E O'Donoghue 5, C Crowe 6; C Boyle 6, L Keegan 6, M Hall 6; S Coen 6, A O'Shea 7; K McLoughlin 7, D O'Connor 5, D Drake 5; J Doherty 5, A Moran 6, A Gallagher 6. Subs: S O'Shea 6 for Gallagher (55), F Boland 6 for O'Connor (61), C Loftus 7 for McLoughlin (61), S Akram for Drake (66), D Kirby for Doherty (71).

REF - P Neilan (Roscommon)

Irish Independent

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