Mayo got the result they wanted against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday with a three point victory
A plucky underdog, the reigning champion, a remarkable comeback, a tension filled conclusion and more drama and action than the average blockbuster, Mayo’s victory over Dublin was a thriller any Hollywood scriptwriter would be proud of.
Mayo ended Dublin’s reign as all-Ireland football champions in front of a packed house at Croke Park today. James Horan’s side withstood a gritty second half fight back to send Dublin crashing out of the All-Ireland race at the penultimate hurdle.
Mayo laid the foundations for victory in the first half. Two early Bernard Brogan frees gave the champions a two point lead but when Mayo got into their stride they dominated. They replied to Brogan’s frees with five points of their own and they held Dublin scoreless for eighteen minutes in the first half. Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea lorded it in the air around midfield and the attack bamboozled the Dublin defence at times with their free flowing movement and scoring ability. All six of Mayo’s forwards scored led by Ballintubber star Cillian O’Connor who was their top scorer. With a 0-12 to 0-6 points lead Mayo appeared comfortable when they headed for the dressing room at half time.
Pat Gilroy’s thoughts at his side’s performance were easily read when he sent his team out for the second half with two changes from the team that went in. He sent for the cavalry in the shape of Alan Brogan. The 2011 footballer of the year had failed a fitness test before throw in and his place in the side taken by Ciarán Kilkenny, who stood up to the heat of battle and scored three points, but Gilroy was desperate and replaced Bryan Cullen with Brogan. The gamble failed and Brogan left the fray after seventeen minutes.
He was replaced by last year’s hero Kevin McManamon. His introduction appeared to be the catalyst that sparked Dublin into life at last. They were ten points behind and looked down and out at that stage. Mayo were playing with greater fluidity and freedom but suddenly the Connacht champions were on the back foot and looked vulnerable. Dublin kicked eight unanswered points and they, and their fans, could sense blood.
Full time loomed and just two points separated the teams. Cillian O’Connor steadied the listing Mayo ship with an injury time free, his side’s first score for 22 minutes, and it seemed that Mayo would secure safe passage. There were yet more twists for this game to take before it reached a conclusion.
Brogan notched another free to reduce the deficit to two points once more before substitute Seamus O’Shea went down the Canal End and scored the winning point. There was still one more dramatic moment for Mayo to endure before the game was over. David Clarke made a stunning save from Bernard Brogan, who was disappointing from play, and Cluxton galloped downfield to take the resulting ’45. He dropped the ball into the square but a Mayo defender emerged from the scrum with the ball in safe keeping and the game was over.
Relief coursed through Mayo’s veins and they could breath at last when Joe McQuillan finally blew his whistle when eight minutes had elapsed since the clock ticked past 70 minutes. Mayo have made a date with destiny and Donegal on 23 September. The only dark cloud on the western skyline was the injury to Lee Keegan, who was taken to hospital with a suspected compound fracture to his index finger.
The jubilant Mayo masses filed out of Croke Park with the strains of the Saw Doctors echoing in their ears. ‘To win just once’ never had a more appropriate setting. It’s the prayer so many Mayo people will be invoking over the next three weeks as they hope their football team can finally end 61 years of suffering against Donegal in the final. Today may have been Mayo’s action packed blockbuster but if the final follows a Hollywood script then they will get their fairytale ending.
Mayo scorers: C O’Connor 0-07 (3 ’45, 3f), A Dillon 0-03, K McLoughlin, E Varley (1f) 0-02 each, B Moran, M Conroy, R Feeney, S O’Shea, J Doherty 0-01 each.
Dublin scorers: B Brogan 0-06 (6f), C Kilkenny, S Cluxton (3 ’45) 0-03 each, D Connolly, P Flynn 0-02 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton, M Fitzsimons, R O’Carroll, C O’Sullivan, J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan, E Fennell, D Bastick; P Flynn, MD Macauley, B Cullen, C Kilkenny, D Connolly, B Brogan.
Subs: A Brogan for Cullen, P McMahon for Fitzsimons, E O’Gara for Bastick, K McManamon for A Brogan
Mayo: D Clarke, K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins, L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Barrett, B Moran, A O’Shea, K McLoughlin, J Doherty, A Dillon, E Varley, C O’Connor, M Conroy.
Subs: R Feeney for Keegan, A Freeman for Varley (blood), C Boyle for McLoughlin (blood), J Gibbons for Feeney, S McHale for Keane, McLoughlin for Doherty, S O’Shea for A O’Shea