We’re still alive. And still standing. Twice in today’s All-Ireland final, it looked like the game was gone beyond us but both times we clawed our way back into it. Our second comeback was particularly impressive and Cillian O’Connor showed incredible composure to fire over the leveler deep into injury time. So it’s a replay, for the first time since 2000, but it’s our third stalemate at the business end of the championship in the last three seasons.
I think it’s fair to say that we upset the accepted narrative more than a bit today. Best Dublin team of all time; nay, best team the country has ever seen? Well, after the way we made them look so ordinary for so long today, I’m not sure much of that still holds true. Sure, it’ll take the replay to settle the issue but let’s say that Dublin’s gilded reputation looks more than a bit tarnished after this afternoon’s rip-roaring final encounter.
Our unwillingness to buy into this narrative was signalled well before throw-in. Dublin were a few minutes late coming out onto the field and they had hardly hit the grass when we came sprinting out after them and delivered a few nice pushes and shoves to soften them up. First blow to us.
We started well too and quickly began to take hold of the contest. Tom Parsons got the game’s first score and Cillian, from a free, put us two ahead.
We’d settled nicely into the game and they were struggling to get a toe-hold but then we handed them one, in disastrous fashion. They bore down on our goal and a mis-hit shot from Brogan cannoned off the unfortunate Kevin McLoughlin for the day’s opening goal.
A super long-range free from Cillian steadied us but then an unbelievable second own-goal, this one poked past David Clarke by Colm Boyle, put Dublin on top. OGs are a rarity at the best of times but to concede two of them, before they’d even had a shot at our posts, was off the map altogether. You truly couldn’t make such a plotline up.
The danger, then, of course, was that they’d bulldoze us into the ground. But their composure took a rattle when James McCarthy was black-carded for a crude body-check, Paddy Andrews coming on to replace him.
Andrews got Dublin’s first point from play shortly after the half-hour mark. Before then a Dean Rock free, on 29 minutes, was the first score of any kind that they scored themselves. But with us doing their scoring for them, this astonishing All-Ireland stat didn’t matter all that much from their point of view.
It mattered less when the half-time whistle sounded with Dublin five to the good. Jason Doherty – who I thought played really well today – belted over a nice one from play but a second Andrews point from play and another Rock free left them in a very strong position.
I thought we were goosed then, I have to admit – we’d disrupted Dublin hugely in that first half, with the Jacks coping badly with both the treacherous conditions and our uncompromising approach, but they still went in at the break five ahead. Another few points and they could well be out of sight.
But we lifted it hugely on the resumption. Five points without reply, three of them from play, from Andy Moran, Paddy Durcan and Cillian, set the tone. Two frees from Cillian brought us level as the game touched the 50-minute mark. By then Dublin were calling ashore danger-man McManamon (who arguably should have faced sterner sanction than yellow for a nasty foul on Diarmuid O’Connor with the game no more than five minutes in progress), with Mannion coming in.
They looked badly rattled but then righted themselves with the game’s next two scores, from Fenton and Rock, both from play. Both points came after slip-ups by Seamus O’Shea and Seamie was withdrawn in favour of Alan Dillon soon after.
We had a goal chance then, a lovely sweeping move which ended with Andy blazing narrowly over. The gap was back to one but in a game of tight margins it had to be chalked down as a miss.
We kept coming at them. A few minutes passed before Alan Dillon, out on the Hogan Stand side swung over a neat point to tie the game up once more. Prior to that, there was a tussle between Lee and Diarmuid Connolly, with TV pictures showing that the Vincents man punched Leeroy in the face. The ref booked both players for the incident but Connolly was a lucky boy not to make the long walk for that one.
Dublin’s next scoring burst looked decisive. John Small – who I thought was really excellent for them today, both in defence and in prompting them forward – cut through and pointed to put them back in front. Rock added a free and after we made a hash of the kick-out Connolly stretched their lead to three. You’d have got poor odds on Dublin closing the game out at that stage.
With the game about to enter injury time, Cillian was fouled and pointed the resultant free. Soon after, it was announced there would be seven minutes of additional time and when Donal Vaughan cut the gap to one, our hopes – and the decibel level from the raucous Mayo support (who were superb all day today) – started to soar once more.
Dublin tried to run down the clock through a policy of keep-ball and it was a tactic that worked in large part. They even had a chance to edge two clear but Connolly pushed a long-range sideline ball attempt wide. Aidan O’Shea then hacked an effort at the posts horribly wide when the only sane thing to have done then was to recycle the ball and keep probing. That looked to have put the tin hat on our chances, on a day when Aidan played well below his best.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Ice Man. Cillian broke through the cover, steadied himself and fired over to bring us level with added time all played out.
When Evan Regan went down after a nasty clash of heads with Denis Bastic from the kick-out, proceedings had to be stopped for a further two minutes or so. It was obvious by then that the ref was going to call time before the play would develop further in either direction and this he duly did.
So it’s back to HQ to settle the issue on Saturday week. Anyone who expects Dublin to be able to re-set the machine and restart the famed process could, on today’s showing by our lads, be in for a bit of a shock then. We showed today that we haven’t a shred of fear about playing this Dublin team and I’d say our lads have, if anything, even less respect for them too after some of their more unsavoury antics today.
Make no mistake, people, this team of ours are in it to win it and win it is what I’ve every confidence we’ll be in a position to do the next day.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan (0-2), Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Jason Doherty (0-1), Andy Moran (0-2), Cillian O’Connor (0-7, four frees). Subs: Alan Dillon (0-1) for Seamus O’Shea, Chris Barrett for Boyle, Barry Moran for Dillon, Stephen Coen for Diarmuid O’Connor, Evan Regan for Andy Moran, Conor Loftus for Regan.
Audio report and Man of the Match poll below:
Who was our MOTM against Dublin?
- Cillian O'Connor (20%, 133 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (19%, 126 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (12%, 83 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (12%, 81 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (12%, 81 Votes)
- David Clarke (6%, 41 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (5%, 34 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (4%, 28 Votes)
- Andy Moran (3%, 19 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (2%, 15 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 7 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 7 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 6 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 5 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 4 Votes)
- Barry Moran (0%, 3 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (0%, 1 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 1 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (0%, 0 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 0 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 672