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Have Mayo left it behind?

Sean Rice

UNTIL NEXT TIME Dublin manager Jim Gavin, left, and Mayo manager Stephen Rochford, right, shake hands after Sunday’s game. Pic: Sportsfile

Seán Rice

THE bittersweet insanity of it all. Whipped from the brink of the chasm by Cillian O’Connor, Mayo’s dream lives for another day.
In a dramatic climax to a tense, edgy All-Ireland final, the Mayo captain came to their rescue with the equalising point in the nick of time.
The game was lost it seemed, and another dream buried. Three points behind a couple of minutes before the end of normal time Mayo had once again become ensnared in that all-Ireland jinx.
It didn’t seem to matter much when O’Connor reduced the arrears to two from a free. But a seven-minutes breather presented them with a chance to regroup.
It did nothing for the nerves when Aidan O’Shea decided to take a sideline kick when he ought to have been raking the clouds for it from another’s delivery.
But then from nowhere emerged Donal Vaughan to leave a single point between them. A Mayo crescendo from the stands willed them on. Once again though a ball skied thoughtlessly wide left us little to cling to ... until Cillian took on the responsibility to hit the glorious equaliser.
For a brief moment the thought of a smash-and-grab win flashed across our mind as Mayo charged forward again. It would have been just reward for the two balls turned into their own net by the luckless Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle at a time when Dublin were reeling. And they tell you that this was Mayo’s lucky year.
Dublin’s celebrated forward line had ground to a halt. Twenty-nine minutes had passed before they racked up a score of their own ... a point by Dean Rock from a free.
They may have jumped with joy when the capricious ball spun off Kevin McLoughlin’s foot into the net in the eighth minute, and again when it deceived Colm Boyle 13 minutes later.
But it was no honour.
Dublin did not deserve those two breaks. They had been outplayed by Mayo, denied by the ferocity of their tackling, the unmistakable application of each defender to the task assigned to him.
The mood from the start was fraught. The Mayo hordes, not knowing what to expect, were in full voice. And the whole stadium had paid an emotional tribute to Greg Maher who at the age of 49 was being laid to rest that very hour. His passing evoked poignant memories of his All-Ireland minor and Connacht senior success in another era.
Mayo lined out with Keith Higgins at full-back, Paddy Durcan in the left corner, and Donal Vaughan at left wing back. But no sooner had the ball been thrown in than Vaughan had moved to partner Seamus O’Shea in the middle of the field with some flair.
To Paddy Durcan was allotted the gargantuan task of policing Kevin McManamon, the man who has inflicted more damage to Mayo in the past than any other forward. The success of the Mitchels man can be measured by the eclipse of the Dublin ace to the extent that he was eventually replaced. In the minutes after the break when Mayo embarked on an improbable recovery Durcan’s point restored fragile hopes.
The big duel was always going to be the reacquaintance with each other of Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly with all its needle and intensity. And again the Westport man was his master, Connolly held to a single point.
Farther in, Brendan Harrison afforded Bernard Brogan no square inch in which to work or to produce his normal quota of fine scores. For once the Dublin man was held scoreless, and eventually replaced.
Keith Higgins was once again a rock of reliability. Once or twice coming forward he lost costly possession of the slippery ball, but never lost his composure. Nor did Colm Boyle, whose tackling was ferocious and who never allowed that goal to affect his performance.
A couple of Dublin points did result from clearances by David Clarke. But the goalkeeper compensated with some spectacular saves especially in the first half and many well-directed kick-outs.
Was it any wonder then that Dublin had to rely on those whimsical goals for sustenance? Unlike their start against Kerry, they had been cagey and cautious.

Ball a lump of grease
THE ball being like a lump of grease and the slippery ground may have been a restriction. But some 12 wides, a good few from the nervous boot of Rock, reflected a respect for a Mayo challenge that few commentators predicted.
They did make the best use of their luck in the final couple of minutes of the first half when Paddy Andrews ­– who had replaced the black-carded James McCarthy, and if anything added to Dublin’s performance – tossed over two points and Rock two frees.
Four points was a poor return from a forward line that has been crushing everything in sight for the past few years. Embellished by those two fluke goals, their five point lead of 2-4 to 0-5 did, however, look a bit beyond Mayo’s reach at the interval.
But within the space of five minutes after the break a rejuvenated Mayo had the lead cut to a single point, Andy Moran, Durcan, and an inspired O’Connor reeling them in as Dublin began to flounder.
And from that moment on it was nip and tuck, the play fluctuating in the wake of some brilliant moves ... and some dreadful mistakes by both sides.
Aidan O’Shea led the front line heroically in the first half, but faded afterwards. Andy Moran’s re-invention continues, and was, together with Cillian, the outstanding front man.
Cillian had a slow start but he led by example after the break, exceeding anything he has achieved this season. Diarmuid got through a pile of good work and the industry and one excellent point of Jason Doherty was hugely significant.
At midfield the hard work of Seamus O’Shea as ever was unremitting and comprehensive. But his passing was awful and too easily telegraphed. Beside him, Donal Vaughan is settling well into the midfield role and emerged with his reputation enhanced.
Tom Parsons, chosen at midfield, played more of a rearguard role and did it well, and Kevin McLoughlin’s interventions and deliveries were competent and effective.
No doubt, this was a magnificent renaissance against the odds. But somehow a feeling nags at the pit of the stomach that they have left it behind again, that Dublin will not play so poorly and will at the second attempt regain the initiative.
If their regular stars failed to shine, another was born in John Small, who was excellent. Brian Fenton, Johnny Cooper and Paddy Andrews also maintained their resilience.
So, a bit deflated by it all, Mayo supporters must like their team regroup for another ticket scramble and another chance to help them break that duck.
But pity those clubs peaking all year for their championship games and finding themselves once more forced to defer their ambitions.

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