Seeing as I posed the question in the pre-match piece I did this morning, it’s only right to provide a response to it in the match report. Yes, we were up for it tonight as we comfortably saw off a fairly woeful Dublin by five points, in the process recording our first League win over them in Dublin since 1971 and our first win ever over them in the capital in a regulation League fixture.
We went with an unchanged team tonight from the one we named on Thursday. Dublin made two changes to the starting fifteen they’d only named at midday, notably adding the highly experienced Mick Fitzsimons to their full-back line.
The rain had begun to spill down before we left the house to stroll down to Croker and a heavy, misty rain fell for virtually the whole game. That made handling tricky enough but there was little or no wind so the wet was the only weather hazard, albeit a significant one.
We had a goal chance right from the off. The ball was played into Diarmuid O’Connor and it looked like the opportunity to bag an early goal was on but he put it over. In truth, he’d been forced a bit wide so the point was probably the safer option.
Soon afterwards we did have the ball in the net, only for it to be ruled out for a pick off the ground by Diarmuid. He’d fed Mattie Ruane who gleefully thumped it home but David Gough had already blown for the infringement.
Mattie got a point soon after as we enjoyed the better start. But then Dublin began to play themselves back into it and by ten minutes they were level.
By then, Jordan Flynn was on yellow, for a high challenge, which looked a bit harsh. Gough was already letting a lot go – if you took the ball into contact, you were on your own – so it was surprising he reached for the card for what was our first foul of the evening. Ryan O’Donoghue followed him into the book soon after for a rather delicious hit on Small.
From then until we got our opening goal was Dublin’s best period. We sank back deeply and they threw the ball around from side to side, probing for openings. They found a few too, with Robbie having to get down smartly to smother Scully’s shot.
Dublin were on an advantage then and so, after the save, Rock popped over the free. He scored another one soon after, Dublin now having bagged four without reply to go two up.
If this were a boxing match, the next phase was one where a flurry of blows were landed in quick succession. And we were the ones whose blows hit home more forcefully.
Points in quick succession from Mattie and Oisín Mullin – a player who simply oozed class tonight – drew us level. Then Kilkenny put them ahead again, for the final time in the game as it happened, before we struck for the first of our two goals.
The score was made by Diarmuid O’Connor – who was magnificent from start to finish – who collected a long diagonal ball out under the Hogan, picking it effortlessly with his toe before providing an inch-perfect hand-pass to the in-rushing Jack Carney. The Kilmeena player hit it hard and low and the ball cannoned back off the upright, hitting Comerford on the head and pinballing to the net.
Jack’s goal? OG? Jack’s all night long in my book.
Aiden Orme, now a lively presence in the forward line alongside the irrepressible Ryan O’Donoghue, added a point and so, all of a sudden, we were three to the good.
Dublin didn’t panic – they so rarely do – and instead knuckled down to reel us back in. Two excellent points from play by McGarry bookended a Rock free (a daft concession, made worse when the ball was moved forward for dissent) and so we were back level again.
But then we struck for our second goal and this, it turned out, was the one that holed them below the waterline. Diarmuid was involved in this one too, winning a free out the field and driving a precision pass into Aiden who, with Ryan riding shotgun, bore down on goal. A quick one-two did the trick and, even though Aiden had Fitzsimons and Small in close attendance, the Knockmore player was able to leap and bat the ball to the net.
Kilkenny – Dublin’s best performer on the night – responded with a point for them. Then Robbie, with the final kick of the half, boomed over a ’45 to send us in three in front.
The tempo altered after the break. We went about our business in a more controlled fashion and while this invited them onto us more, our defence was well structured and they never punched the kind of holes that could have caused us damage.
The scoreboard went quiet too and nine minutes were played before the first score of the second half arrived. And when it did, it came for us with Robbie smashing over a long-range free to widen our lead to four.
Dublin did get a shot for a goal off soon after but Robbie was equal to it, pushing O’Dell’s drive over the bar.
At the other end our wides were starting to mount. They were bad ones too, with Jordan Flynn, Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin (only just on the field) missing from good positions.
Then Michael Plunkett raided forward down the right-hand side – as he’d done a few times the last day in Clones – and found himself in space and within range. The Ballintubber man curled over a cracking score, driving another nail in Dublin’s coffin.
Dublin’s wides were starting to mount now too. Their trademark pass/pass/pass until the right chance opened up in the right spot was nowhere to be seen as instead players – even of the calibre of Brian Howard – took on daft, low percentage efforts that were never going to hit the target.
At that stage, the game was crying out for another decisive thrust by us to finish them off. We should have too, you know, and it was our inability to sink the dagger when the opportunity was there for us that meant this game didn’t end in a double-digit mauling for the home team.
Instead, we added points to make the game safe. Bryan Walsh hit a nice one over, after Ryan ran into traffic but offloaded to Aiden who fed the Ballintubber man.
Rock got a free for them but by now they were approaching the point where they needed a goal and, in truth, that was never going to come.
Michael Plunkett bagged his second of the evening – a carbon copy of his first one – to push us five ahead. Small got Dublin’s final score – to a deafening Croke Park silence – as the game went into injury time and, although five minutes were still to be played, it was a comfortable final five minutes from our point of view.
It was Diarmuid – very appropriately – who bagged the game’s final score. He’d been involved in a turnover out the field – Charlie Gilmartin, in whose convivial company Rob, Joe and I watched the game from the lower Hogan, noted then that this intervention was the one that had finally broken them – and then got back on the ball further up and slotted it over to seal a five-point win.
I think it’s significant in this team’s development that we backed up last August’s All-Ireland semi-final win with a victory this evening. While Dublin are clearly in a bad spot right now, our record against them in the League – especially at Croke Park – is abysmal so the win was never a gimme. In what was a well controlled performance we made it looked like a comfortable win for us.
It’s doubly satisfying that the win was achieved with an experimental team, with young players like Donnacha McHugh, Rory Brickenden, Jack Carney, Paul Towey and Aiden Orme all playing their part in a Mayo victory over Dublin at Croke Park. That’s a real positive for us as we seek to further deepen the pool of talent within the squad.
Then when you think of how the likes of Robbie, Lee, Oisín, Stephen (who did much to ensure our backline was well organised throughout), Mattie, Diarmuid and Ryan did tonight, it’s impossible not to be satisfied with our evening’s work.
A special mention is needed for Jordan Flynn, who was harshly sent off early in the corresponding fixture in 2020 and was booked early this evening but who still put in a strong shift afterwards.
So, we’re joint top of the table tonight – along with Armagh, who drew with Monaghan earlier this evening – and it’s the Orchard County we face next in a League campaign which we already know is not going to be one where the threat of relegation will be hanging over us.
With five points on the board after three rounds, we can now afford to think more expansive thoughts about this competition and, of course, the Championship campaign that’s set to follow hot on its heels.
Tonight, though, we can reflect on a highly satisfying win over Dublin at HQ. It was a contest we were well fired up for and for that we got our due reward. We should do this more often.
Mayo: Rob Hennelly (0-2, ’45 and a free); Lee Keegan, Rory Brickenden, Michael Plunkett (0-2); Oisín Mullin (0-1), Stephen Coen, Donnacha McHugh; Matthew Ruane (0-2), Jordan Flynn; Bryan Walsh (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2), Jack Carney (1-0); Paul Towey, Ryan O’Donoghue, Aiden Orme (1-1). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin for Carney, Conor Loftus for Towey, Enda Hession for Mullin, Aidan O’Shea for Ruane, Fergal Boland for o’Donoghue, Eoghan McLaughlin for Plunkett (blood).
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Dublin? Pick your top three performers
- Diarmuid O'Connor (29%, 880 Votes)
- Rob Hennelly (19%, 584 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (13%, 384 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (12%, 370 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (11%, 326 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (4%, 127 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (3%, 92 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 70 Votes)
- Jack Carney (1%, 39 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 32 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (1%, 30 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (1%, 16 Votes)
- Rory Brickenden (0%, 15 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 15 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (0%, 15 Votes)
- Donnacha McHugh (0%, 14 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 14 Votes)
- Paul Towey (0%, 11 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (0%, 11 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 9 Votes)
- Enda Hession (0%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,513