Wow! We stuff the All-Ireland champions by 12 points, racking up twenty points – the bulk of them from play – in the process. We’ve almost certainly retained our Division One status for another year and we could, if we beat the Kerrymen, even make it to the semi-final. And Conor Mortimer smashed Joe Corcoran’s long-standing record to become Mayo’s all-time top scorer. And I finally got to meet and shake hands with the real Willie Joe. Carlsberg don’t do league matches, but if they did …
I’m not sure how many time I trotted out the old “travelling more in hope than in confidence” cliché before leaving Dublin early this afternoon but it was well into double figures. The team that was announced last night didn’t fill me with confidence and I had real fears we could end up taking a right pasting. Well, that shows how much I know about this particular subject matter: I couldn’t have been more wrong about how I thought this one might go.
Over our early morning porridge this morning – before heading out to face the rigours of U8 hurling – the little lad said to me that he’d be happy enough to see us win this one, on the basis that then we’d both survive in Division One. That’s fairly mature thinking for a seven-year old but I was still glad that he opted to stay in the capital to go to a friend’s birthday party instead of heading west with me. Bipartisan bonhomie would only have lasted a while, I fear, and I’d say there’s a good chance we’d have had tears before bedtime if he’d had to witness his precious Dubs getting pulled to pieces in the comprehensive way that they were.
McHale Park look great, awashed with the evening sunlight, when PJ and I arrived and for the first time in ages we opted for the concrete bleachers instead of the stand so that we had the sun at our backs. I managed to locate John Cuffe who’d also made the same choice and we hunkered down beside himself and Liam Horan to watch the evening’s action unfold.
We were on the offensive right from the throw-in, with Aidan O’Shea a bristling presence at midfield where he was so obviously a man on a mission, eager to make up for his absence for the best part of the last three matches. Another man eager to make an impression was Michael Conroy who got us going in confident fashion with two lovely neat points from play, the first off his right foot and the second off his left.
Bryan Cullen broke through and fisted over to get the Dubs’ opening score but Alan Dillon responded with a fine score from out on the right and we then moved further ahead with points from Conor Mortimer (a free) and another from Dillon, which came straight from the kick-out.
After Andrews notched the visitors’ second, Mort nabbed a well-worked one from play which involved a quick interchange of passes before he drove it over from 40 yards out to draw level with Joe Corcoran’s long-standing all-time scoring record for the county.
After another point for the Dubs, Aidan O’Shea lamped over a glorious score from close to fifty yards out but the next score we got was even more significant as this one meant that Conor had now become our all-time top scorer. Here’s his pointed free that secured this notable position:
We were now five clear and you could see that confidence was starting to build, a process aided further when Alan Dillon knocked over his third of the evening and Michael Conroy then did the same with another peach of a score from a tight angle.
Dublin were finding it very hard to make any progress against us, with our backs enjoying the best of the exchanges – the way that Lee Keegan cleanly dispossesed the in-running Kevin McManamon was a particularly sweet cameo – but when the rapidly advancing Kevin Nolan was fed a perfect ball, he had only David Clarke to beat and a goal looked certain. The big Stephenites man provided further proof, however, of what an excellent shot-stopper he is by smothering Nolan’s effort and clearing his lines.
That was an inspirational moment and we drove on to close out the half with two further points from Mort (both from play) and one from Barry Moran to push us eight clear of the All-Ireland champions at the break. It was a great opening half but we knew from bitter experience – in particular last weekend – that the job was only half-done at that stage.
Dublin really needed to put it up to us on the restart but instead we were immediately on the offensive, with Donal Vaughan galloping rapidly towards the Dublin goal. I thought he’d go for a major but instead he sensibly fisted it over. Aidan had no qualms about going for glory just after and although Cluxton stopped his shot, he handled it on the ground after it bounced back off him and Conor popped over the resultant 14-yard free.
Donie came raiding again just after and joyously thumped another one between the sticks to send us eleven clear. Dublin’s bad evening then got a whole load worse when Paul Flynn got a straight red after a clash with Colm Boyle. I didn’t see the incident and so can’t say if the card was justified but Michael Duffy clearly felt it was and so that was end of the Fingallians’ man’s involvement in proceedings. (Photo: Katrina Brennan).
So for the third match in a row, we found ourselves a man up for most of the second half. This time was different, though, as we had such a big lead before the red card was issued and, as PJ snorted, it wasn’t as if we didn’t have some practice in how best to use the extra man.
Two points without reply for the Dubs suggested that we still hadn’t this tactic cracked but gradually we began to suck the life out of them, each attempted attack getting swallowed up by the cover and Keith Higgins repeatedly using his speed to drive us forward.
More scores followed for us, with Conor notching his seventh of the night (photo: Katrina Brennan) and then Alan Dillon and Michael Conroy continuing to shadow each other, Alan getting his fourth from play and Michael following suit just after.
Dublin’s increasingly poor discipline then resulted in Diarmuid Connolly – who only managed a single point tonight – getting a second yellow. With two spare men on the field now, the only question that remained to be resolved was just how much more pain we could inflict on the All-Ireland champions. As it turned out, we didn’t do much more damage as all we added was one more point, our twentieth of the night which was – entirely fittingly – scored by the record-breaking Conor Mortimer.
It was a super performance by the whole team, one that makes you wonder why things went off the rails as badly as they did over the last few weeks. Aidan O’Shea’s return was of huge importance for us and the contributions made by the likes of Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Donie Vaughan, Colm Boyle, Andy Moran, Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and Michael Conroy was nothing short of immense. The rest of the guys all did well too – Kevin Keane and Shane McHale were both rock-solid at the back, for example, and David Clarke had a wonderful game between the sticks. Barry Moran didn’t have a rampaging night at full-forward but the presence of the big man high up seem to destabilise the Dublin backs and provide the kind of space that Conroy, Dillon and the Mort exploited with such glee.
It’s gone midnight now and I’ve wine to finish so I think I’ll leave it at that. It was a great night, one that proves you just never can tell with this Mayo team. This win doesn’t magic away all of the problems that have bubbled up in recent weeks but it does, perhaps, give us all more ground for optimism about where we’re headed … in those nice new jerseys that were unveiled in such low-key fashion tonight.
Mayo: David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Shane McHale, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan (0-2), Colm Boyle; Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Danny Geraghty; Kevin McLoughlin, Andy Moran, Alan Dillon (0-4); Conor Mortimer (0-8, five frees), Barry Moran (0-1), Michael Conroy (0-4). Subs: Jason Doherty for Barry Moran, Peadar Gardiner for Vaughan, Cillian O’Connor for Conroy, Aidan Campbell for Dillon, Jason Gibbons for Geraghty.