This evening’s replay was so different in every sense from last Sunday’s drawn game. By half-time we were in a better place and with twenty minutes to go we were four to the good and had them at our mercy. A crucial five minutes then passed when we failed to ram home our advantage. Lee Keegan dropped an easy chance for a point short and we failed in that defining stage of the game to stretch our lead still further.
Instead, we endured an 11-point swing, conceding 2-5 without reply and were outscored by 3-5 to 0-2 over that final fifteen minutes. As collapses go, this was more calamitous than what Dublin had experienced last Sunday and this one was fatal. Out with the tide, once again, went our hopes of making it back to an All-Ireland final.
Right from the start today, the mood inside Croke Park was immeasurably better than last Sunday. The moronic booing of individual players aside – and our lot’s catcalling of Diarmuid Connolly every time he touched the ball was as stupid as the barracking they gave Lee, Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea – the atmosphere inside the ground was, at least where I was sitting, relaxed and easy-going.
We settled quickly today. We traded points with them till the break, some of ours really cracking ones from play, and in that opening 35 minutes we both had our moments. Overall, though, those periods cancelled each other out and we reached the turn level on ten points each.
The first half was played at a furious enough pace but the nastiness that characterised so much of the drawn game seemed noticeably absent. I’d give a lot of credit for this to Eddie Kinsella who reffed the contest excellently from start to finish and kept a firm hand on proceedings throughout.
It was perhaps predictable that we should be the ones to lose a significant player for disciplinary reasons. I didn’t see what Cooper did to provoke Seamus O’Shea but from the corner of my eye I saw Seamie throwing him out of the way. I don’t think we could have had any complaints for the black card that followed.
It wasn’t a disastrous set-back but Seamie’s a big player for us and his withdrawal meant Andy Moran was pitched into the fray a bit sooner than we might have wanted.
Our best period came after this, though, capped by Cillian’s goal which put us four points in front. Andy laid it off perfectly to him and Cillian did wonderfully well to finish despite being off-balance as Cluxton pawed at him as he shimmied around him.
It was all perfectly set up for us then. The Dublin support – so big and boisterous when the Dubs are in the ascendency but so quick to disappear to nothing when things start to go awry – was stunned into silence and the battle out on the pitch was going our way.
Forward we swarmed repeatedly but every attack we made failed to produce any further reward on the scoreboard. And boy were we made to pay.
Both of Dublin’s first two goals came from our kickouts. The second one was the fatal one – Barry Moran had bizarrely been taken off and Robbie, equally bizarrely, chose this moment to boom his first kick out the middle, a middle where our team was shorn of ball winners. MacAuley won the ball unchallenged and seconds later McMahon was bundling it into the net after we’d failed to prevent Brogan burrowing up the inside channel. Our goose was cooked then.
The third goal looked preventable too. MacManamon was left in acres of space and was allowed to advance unimpeded on goal but even then I felt the shot shouldn’t have ended in the net. But it did and that emphatically ended the contest.
We’ve no complaints – how could we? We were well beaten by a team that overran us in the final quarter. I guess my argument would be that we should have been able to keep that particular genie inside the bottle but we weren’t and when the Dubs came at us in full flow we simply had no answer.
In that sense, this evening’s semi-final replay defeat is easier to take than it was that awful evening down in Limerick last year. There’s no sense of injustice this time, no blaming the ref or cursing our luck or anything like that. We came up short, we were beaten by a team that eventually proved itself to be more resilient and – when the chances finally opened up for them – more clinical.
But, of course, in another way it’s worse, far worse. This defeat leaves us further away from the summit compared to last year, which in turn was further than the year before. This bunch of lads have given their all and more in the pursuit of ultimate honours – and they deserve all the praise and admiration we can give them – but tonight the Holy Grail appears a more distant, unattainable target.
We know by now that these lads won’t give up, we know there’ll be another push next year and once next year comes we know we’ll all be there again rooting for them. Hoping beyond hope that this time it’ll be our year.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Ger Cafferkey, Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan (0-1), Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle; Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Diarmuid O’Connor (0-2), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Kevin McLoughlin (0-1); Barry Moran (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (1-6, five frees), Jason Doherty. Subs: Patrick Durcan (0-1) for Vaughan, Andy Moran (0-1, a free) for Seamus O’Shea (black card), David Drake for Boyle, Alan Freeman for Barry Moran, Stephen Coen for Parsons, Mark Ronaldson for McLoughlin.