On a day that mirrored the wet conditions in which Dublin beat Kerry in the 2015, Mayo adapted well to the rain to secure an All-Ireland football replay final for the first time in sixteen years. It was an intriguing contest due to the competitiveness and physicality of the encounter, if not due to the quality of shooting. In the 77 minutes the ball was in play, The Dublin forward line, infamous for ruthlessness in front of the sticks, only managed two points from play between them.
With both teams forced to deal with a greasy pitch, it was Mayo who laid down the gauntlet in the opening exchanges by showing good defensive organisation and dogged tackling to put their stamp on the game. Mayo were unlucky to concede what was a much needed from a Dubs perspective. Michael Darragh McCauley and Brian Fenton combined well to launch an attack for the blues. After a good initial save by Mayo keeper David Clarke from the first shot, the ball rebounded off the very unlucky Kevin McLoughlin and slide into the Mayo net.
Dublin failed to push on though, with Dean Rock putting a free wide and Brian Fenton spurning a golden one on one opportunity. Mayo to their credit responded by levelling the match. The rain had more and more of an effect as the match went on, making long kicks less and less viable, and bogged the game in a physical scrap.
But just as Mayo were starting to find their rhythm, they were the victim of another slice of atrocious bad luck. A free kick towards the Mayo goal was fumbled by Dean Rock, only to bounce off the despairing defender Colm Boyle into the Mayo goal.
Things got slightly better for Mayo. After responding with a point, Dublin’s James McCarthy was black carded for a challenge in the 26th minute. Despite the huge expense of energy on Mayo’s part, Dublin players found their rhythm in the final five minutes of the first half, with scores from substitute Paddy Andrews and Rock. The result was that Mayo faced a mammoth task at halftime, despite being the sharper of the two teams.
Whatever was said in the Mayo dressing room at halftime it worked. They upped the ante to make sure that the Dublin forwards were squeezed out with tackles and regular interceptions. In the first 10 minutes of the second half Mayo scored five points without reply to eradicate Dublin’s lead. The All Ireland champions always seemed to score when most needed to stop Mayo from building a lead. The failure of Mayo to build a momentum was stopped in part by excellent defending from the likes of Jonny Cooper, Philly McMahon and John Small.
Now the superior fitness of Dublin began to show as the game neared its closing stages. Mayo, more than they had been in the first half, were having difficulty holding onto the ball. Despite the introduction of Alan Dillon, Dublin were still able to pull two clear. The writing appeared to be on the wall for the green and red men with two minutes to go when Connolly added a point to Dublin’s lead.
However, three things happened that allowed Mayo to pull the game out of the fire. The referee added seven minutes to the clock, a desperate edge to Mayo’s tackling allowed them to secure the progression needed and the captain, Cillian O’Connor, showed nerves of steel to level the sides in the final minutes and make sure that Mayo lived to fight another day. The sides now face off in a replay decider on Saturday October 1st.
Dublin Team: S Cluxton, P McMahon, J Copper, D Byrne, J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, J Small , B Fenton MD MacAuley, P Flynn, K McManamon, C Kilkenny, D Rock, D Connolly, Bernard Brogan.
Mayo: D Clarke, B Harrison, D Vaughan, K Higgins, L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan, S O’Shea, T Parsons, K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, D O’Connor, J Doherty, A Moran, C O’Connor
Conor Lynott | Sports Editor