After a very trying week for the GAA this was a reminder of everything that September football could be. Free flowing, full scoring, combative and skilful both counties gave a good account of themselves with Mayo paying the price for some naïve defending.
Mayo had the better of the first half with a smattering of scores from midfield that broke the Dublin defenders discipline with O’Shea dominant in claiming kick outs. Paddy Andrews kept Dublin in the game with some well kicked scores. Connolly was understandably subdued after a ridiculous last minute reprieve from the baffling GAA disciplinary process. Rock’s free taking left something to be desired and it is clear that he will need to improve greatly to maintain his place in the fifteen for the final.
Mayo had no such issues with scores coming in from all over the field and a midfield so dominant that in the first half it appeared as if Cluxton was terrified of giving possession away to them. This would not be maintained in the second half however as O’Shea bafflingly decided to choke slam his man to the turf and was lucky to escape with just a black card.
The loss in midfield had a disastrous effect on the match for Mayo. Aiden O’Shea cut an increasingly isolated figure up front. Mayo would have been much better suited moving him back into midfield. The goal that O’Connor scored, despite a hint of illegality not noticed by the umpires, should have led to a Mayo victory. They went four points ahead with an incredibly easy chance to make it five. The tactical naivety of Mayo was astounding to see for a team that has been in this position so many times before. At no point in this period did they look to kill the game with possession, instead they played incredibly loosely, giving the ball away all over the field.
At this point the Dublin bench was unleashed on Mayo and the difference was incredible. Where Bastick was ineffective in midfield MD Macauley was superb. The loss of O’Shea immediately noticed by his sheer power. His name must surely be on the starting sheet for the final. Brogan and McManamon are pure winners and as soon as they entered the fray you feared for Mayo. Brogan’s instinctive finishing was worthy of the premiership and his set up for Philly McMahon’s goal was superb. To consider that the defender ended the match with 1-2 from play, and that with better finishing it should have been 2-1, tells you everything that you need to know about the two teams. Dublin with scorers all over the pitch simply overloaded Mayo in the space of five minutes.
Another loss for Mayo in this fashion must bring into question their game management skills. They fought back against a Dublin side down to fourteen men missing their midfield and failed to win the game. Again they led Dublin and again failed to maximise their opportunities.
Dublin can take solace however after a hard fought win against the only serious opposition that they have played in their campaign so far. After this Kerry will have been forewarned on the quality of their bench, as if they needed to be, and will need to ensure that they can mark McManamon when he inevitably makes his appearance from the bench.
Mayo’s status as the perennial bridesmaid of inter-county football is well trodden by now but you would have to wonder just how much disappointment these players can stomach before they give up the ghost. The dearth of relatively competent competition in Connacht may fail to inspire them, though hopefully Roscommon can make the step up from underage success next year.
Words by Neil Ryan, Sports Editor