We did it, we only went and did it.
Dublin have been the greatest champions in the history of Gaelic football but their run was going to end some day. That day, in a mesmerising, chaotic and thrilling night of football at Croke Park, was today. We’ve downed the Dubs and, once again, we’re back in the All-Ireland final.
It’s difficult – with my brain still fizzling and crackling – to make any sense of this contest. It’s almost as hard to describe it. What I want to do now is drink beer, lots of it, and watch it all over again. Which I’ll do once I’m done here.
Okay, let’s wind the clock back to earlier in the day. We got to Croke Park at half-time in the women’s game – time pressures mean I won’t get to a match report on that one tonight, still less one on the camogie win over Tyrone earlier in the day – and the place was filling up as the second half of that game progressed. The women battled bravely to the end but Dublin never really looked in danger of losing it and were deserving winners at the end.
Dublin got the dream start in our match. They scored the first four points of the game and in that early period we were all at sea.
The game was being played almost exclusively in our half then, Dublin dominating possession as they held onto the ball for long spells, patiently waiting for an opening to present itself. When we did break out we butchered a few chances and a full 11 minutes were on the clock before Mattie Ruane banged over our opener from distance.
At the first water break we were six to two in arrears, our second point a free from Ryan O’Donoghue. It had been a poor opening quarter for us but it became worse from then to half-time, as we went in six behind.
A long-range free from Robbie Hennelly gave us a bit of relief, at a time when it looked like we couldn’t buy a score. Conor Loftus smashed over what in retrospect was a crucial score, cutting the deficit from a forbidding seven points to six at half-way.
But we were in serious bother at that point. Truth be told, our cause looked hopeless. Dublin had held the ball for close on five minutes near half-time and my fear was that plenty more of this bore-us-to-death football was to come after the break. We all knew in our hearts that Dublin don’t lose matches from this position.
The third quarter has, in this era of Dublin dominance, become the point of the game when they assert control on proceedings. It was, then, with a sense of dread that we faced into that pivotal period of the contest.
Pivotal it proved to be too. We went into that third quarter six behind but we emerged from it having cut that deficit in half. For the first time in a night that was about to get increasingly bonkers, the thought that we might actually do it began to seem less than ludicrous.
Dublin failed to score at all in that third quarter, a missed free by Rock showing that they were starting to feel the pressure. We bagged points from Ryan, a long distance free from Robbie and a real roll-back-the-years effort from the magnificent Lee Keegan as we began to take the fight to them in earnest.
James Horan had made a very big call by then. The experiment of playing Aidan O’Shea at full-forward didn’t work at all and he was having an unhappy time of it. James took him off at the 50-minute mark, sending James Carr into the fray in his place.
But it was an earlier replacement who was lighting up the big house with an influential performance that belied his tender years. Enda Hession had replaced Darren McHale, with Eoghan McLaughlin pushing up to the half-forwards and the Garrymore man was to the fore as our fast-running raids forward began to become the dominant theme of this contest.
The tide briefly turned back in Dublin’s favour. Paddy Small got a point for them but then his brother mistimed a charge on Eoghan McLaughlin and laid him out. Eoghan was stretchered off, Small should have gone too for an incident that was more of an assault than a challenge but incredibly Lane – who yet again today demonstrated he’s not capable of reffing a match at this level – waved play on and Dublin had a shot at goal, which Basquel boomed wide.
They added another point to stretch their lead back out to five. We were staggering again, seemingly on the cusp of buckling, with the champions ready to kick for home.
But then the narrative shifted again and it did so significantly.
Robbie took another long range free which was tailing off wide but Diarmuid O’Connor managed to hack it back into play where it was gathered by Kevin McLoughlin and rammed over. Jordan Flynn, on for the unfortunate Eoghan, knocked over another and the match was back on in earnest once more.
This time, though, we kept the foot on the pedal. Comerford idled too long on the ball as Dublin struggled to break out of defence and was penalised. A mini-schemozzle in what was now a fully-charged Championship battle saw the ball brought forward and Ryan popped it over.
Tommy Conroy then sashayed through the cover and blasted another over. Now there was just a single point between the teams.
Rock got one for them but seven minutes of added time was called, plenty of time for us to snatch, at worst, a draw.
The lads were now hunting every ball with a kind of feral intensity. James McCarthy got swallowed up and turned over, the move leading to a free for us, for which Byrne should have got a black. The pusillanimous Cork official, however, flashed the yellow instead.
Ryan converted that one too, cutting the gap once more to the minimum.
Dublin were now panic-stricken, trying to hold onto the ball near their own goal-line. Eventually, under huge pressure from us, they fumbled it, conceding a ’45.
It all rested on Robbie now. A man who has taken such criticism down the years – the vast bulk of it unfair – but it’s a unimpeachable fact that without Robbie this game wouldn’t have gone to extra-time.
The kick had to be taken twice as Robbie’s first attempt was impeded. There seemed to be an inordinate delay before he took the kick a second time but when he did it was straight and true. We were at last all-square in a contest which was now assuming the air of a classic, one that now was heading for extra-time.
Could we do it now? Dublin had gone to pieces in the final quarter but could our approach of raising chaos see us home or would the champions snap back into their winning style and dash our hopes yet again?
We got our answer soon enough in extra-time. They got the first score but the tide was now running strongly in our direction. For the first time in ages, Dublin’s jugular was exposed. We moved in for the kill.
Tommy Conroy’s equalising point was key to this as it prevented Dublin from slowing things down and taking the sting from our challenge. Then they lost Basquel to a black card and we made our numerical advantage count.
It was Tommy again, slaloming through at top speed, who smashed over the score that put us ahead for the first time. We only had our noses barely in front but the champions would never lead again in this contest. We didn’t know it then but the drive for seven-in-a-row was already dead.
Further points in rapid succession from Darren Coen – what a sweetly struck one that was – and Ryan pushed us three clear. I was trying to get my brain to process what my eyes were uploading but I was having difficulty doing so. Eventually, though, the realisation began to dawn on me that, yes, we were actually going to win the bloody thing.
Dublin came at us frantically but gone now was the languid, controlled demeanour we’ve all become used to. In its place was a scatter-brained, increasingly heedless attempt to claw back control of a game that had spun from their reach.
There was still enough time for another bad Small challenge – this one from Paddy, which ended James Carr’s participation in the game – and James McCarthy walked on a black in the final seconds, as did Lahiff. Dublin launched a few desperate balls into the square but we dealt with them easily enough.
It wasn’t backs to the wall at the finish. We were in possession in their half of the field when time was finally called. We were very deserving three-point winners at the finish.
We had heroes all over the place tonight and it almost doesn’t feel right to pick out particular players. But Robbie deserves mention for his precious placed kicks, so too do Ryan and Tommy for their scores, Diarmuid for his hard work all night, Enda for his youthful fearlessness, Jordan for the very important cameo he played and, of course, Padraig O’Hora for a performance that RTÉ adjudged to be a MOTM one.
For my money, though, the imperious Lee Keegan was our main man tonight. He’s never given less than 100% against Dublin and he gave that and more in this game.
So, it’s the end of Dublin’s long, long unbeaten run. They’ve been great champions and we’ve had some right old battles with them down the years. Often, tramping wearily out of Croke Park we wondered if we’d ever beat them. How sweet, then, it is to taste success against them tonight.
But, of course, we haven’t won anything yet and while our semi-final record over the past decade is a decent one, we know that it’s a different question where it comes to finals.
We don’t know yet who we’ll meet in the decider, we don’t even know for sure when it’ll be played. So, with those beers calling and the TV on pause, I think we can leave it there and savour this sweet win long into the night. Up Mayo!
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-3, two frees and a ’45); Padraig O’Hora, Lee Keegan (0-1), Michael Plunkett; Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin; Matthew Ruane (0-1), Conor Loftus (0-1); Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Darren McHale; Tommy Conroy (0-3), Aidan O’Shea, Ryan O’Donoghue (0-5, two frees and a mark). Subs: Enda Hession for McHale, Bryan Walsh for Plunkett, James Carr for Aidan O’Shea, Jordan Flynn for McLaughlin, Conor O’Shea for Loftus, Darren Coen (0-1) for Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus for McLoughlin, James Durcan for Carr, Brendan Harrison for O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea for Darren Coen.
Who was our MOTM against Dublin? Pick your top three performers
- Padraig O'Hora (22%, 818 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (21%, 775 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (19%, 686 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (9%, 313 Votes)
- Enda Hession (6%, 236 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (6%, 212 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (4%, 136 Votes)
- Mattie Ruane (3%, 124 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 80 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (2%, 70 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 52 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (1%, 26 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 21 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 18 Votes)
- Darren McHale (0%, 15 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 15 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (0%, 13 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (0%, 12 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 12 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 8 Votes)
- James Carr (0%, 7 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (0%, 7 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (0%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,701