Well, that sure was a game of two halves.
At the break, with us eight to six up, things were looking as positive as we could have hoped for in advance. We’d worked like demons in that opening half, repeatedly turning over the ball in our backline to break up their attacks and asking questions of them at the other end.
The only nagging concern then – when all manner of delicious possibilities were beginning to materialise in our minds – was that the dominance we enjoyed in the opening half hadn’t translated into enough scores. We were two up, but we should have been five or six clear.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, however, it was all over. Dublin hit us like an express train after the break, taking us for 2-6 without reply in a devastating 15-minute spell. We simply had no answer to this full-on barrage in blue.
Lee Keegan’s goal – he does love scoring goals against Dublin – briefly gave us hope but wild shooting and poor shot selection meant that we failed to close the gap further when there were chances there for us to do it. When Fenton scored their third goal on sixty minutes it really was all over.
How different it was just a short while earlier in the day. When Croke Park filled up – all the way to capacity – just before throw-in the atmosphere inside the stadium was electric. It really felt as if a seismic contest was about to unfold.
And for half the game that was what we got. We got the game’s two first scores – a Cillian O’Connor free that HawkEye confirmed was over and a point from play from Seamus O’Shea – and were off and running.
We’d made three changes in advance of throw-in. Donie Vaughan, Mattie Ruane and Diarmuid O’Connor started instead of Kevin McLoughlin, Fergal Boland and Darren Coen, seemingly going for increased heft and height in the middle third. Two Rock frees had them level after five minutes. Then James Carr showed well for the ball inside, turned and curved a nice score over off his left.
In a flash, Dublin stole ahead. Mannion should have done better when played in but blazed over. Then Rob Hennelly’s short restart was intercepted and Mannion popped it over to put Dublin one up.
We responded well. Cillian O’Connor’s effort from distance just made it over and then Paddy Durcan raided forward to reclaim the lead.
As Dublin started to look a bit unsettled, Small went into the book for a high challenge on Colm Boyle. Cillian coverted the free to edge us two clear. Rock ended a 12-minute scoreless spell for Dublin with another free. We made our first change then, which looked to be an enforced one, as Donal Vaughan gave way for Keith Higgins.
As Dublin were increasingly content to sit back, their blue blanket strung across the field with virtually their whole team back beyond half-way, as we dominated possession and played the ball back and over in front of their shield. Then Boyler punched through a gap and let fly off the outside of his boot to increase our lead to two once again.
Half-time was now approaching and we pressed to extend our advantage further. We pulled a further point clear, with Paddy bagging his second, but they had the final say of the half when the hitherto subdued Howard cracked over a fine score from distance to cut the gap back to two.
As the teams trooped off at the break and 82,300 people exhaled it felt for all the world like Mayo/Dublin days of old. We’d taken the fight to them, they looked more unsure of themsevles than at any time since the 2017 All-Ireland, and we were in this to win it. The job we’d came to do might not be done but it looked then as if the task was at least half-done.
Dublin got the opening score in the second half right from the throw-in. Rock was held back by Chris Barrett and the Ballymun player was unerring from the resultant placed ball.
Then came what, in retrospect, looked like the game’s real momentum-changing moment. Paddy shot from distance and it looked to be heading over but his effort just didn’t have the legs and a scrambling Cluxton pawed it out. Dublin hoovered up the loose ball, tore downfield and O’Callaghan shrugged off the attentions of Lee Keegan and stuck it in the net.
That started what quickly turned into a rout. We lost four kickouts in a row, Dublin gobbling up the breaking ball – how we could have used Jason Doherty then – and coming at us repeatedly. Scully, Mannion, Rock (a free) and Mannion again, this one from an utterly ludicrous angle, pushed Dublin six clear.
Where before they had been overly cautious, Dublin were now playing – and attacking us – with abandon. We literally had no answer to this assault.
O’Callaghan shimmied by Lee a second time to bag his side’s second goal, Mannion’s point a few minutes later extending their lead to double digits.
With a full twenty minutes of normal time still left to play, our goose was well and truly cooked. Lee’s goal rose a cheer in the Mayo ranks and so too did Tom Parsons’ heartwarming appearance off the bench with ten minutes left to play. Sadly, though, that was just after Fenton had hammered the final nail into our coffin.
And so the game played out to its predictable finish. I thought we might get the margin of defeat back down to single digits but we just failed to do this. Cillian’s dismissal on a second yellow in stoppage time capped a truly miserable second half for us.
We’ve no complaints, of course, about today’s result. While we matched Dublin – and more – in the first half we were simply no match for them at all in the second half. That third quarter onslaught was nothing short of awesome and we simply had no answers to it.
The hard run of games – and, in particular, that bruising battle against Donegal a week ago – can’t have helped, especially when Dublin hit the accelerator after the break. We looked a tired team well before the finish and it was perfectly understandable that we should.
So that’s it for 2019. Well, seeing as today was our third defeat in this year’s Championship, I guess it is time to fold our tent for the year. Tonight’s not the night for any considered appraisal of the year – there’ll be time aplenty for that in the months ahead – even if the margin of this defeat does have an end of era feel to it, certainly for a number of our brave warriors who have given so much for so long in the service of their county.
Tonight, it’s sufficient to sign off by saluting those efforts and thanking the lads for all they’ve given. Now it’s time to rest up, recharge the batteries and, in time, start to think about 2020. But just not now.
Hard luck too, by the way, to the county’s Minors, who were always bailing water against a slick and confident Cork team in the day’s curtain-raiser at Croke Park. They eventually went under by nine points in that one.
There was better luck for the ladies today, another battling performance seeing them get the better of Armagh by 2-12 to 1-12, as they advance to the All-Ireland semi-finals. Well done to them.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Stephen Coen (0-1); Lee Keegan (1-0), Colm Boyle (0-1), Paddy Durcan (0-2); Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea (0-1); Fionn McDonagh, Donal Vaughan, Matthew Raune; Cillian O’Connor (0-3, two frees), Diarmuid O’Connor, James Carr (0-1). Subs: Keith Higgins for Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin for McDonagh, Andy Moran for Carr, Eoin O’Donoghue for Boyle, Tom Parsons for Seamus O’Shea, Fergal Boland (0-1) for Diarmuid O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Dublin? Pick your top three performers
- Paddy Durcan (28%, 383 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (22%, 306 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (12%, 160 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (6%, 84 Votes)
- James Carr (6%, 82 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (5%, 63 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (3%, 44 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (3%, 40 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (3%, 39 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (2%, 33 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (2%, 31 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (2%, 27 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (2%, 26 Votes)
- Fionn McDonagh (1%, 10 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (1%, 9 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 9 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 5 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (0%, 4 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 4 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 3 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (0%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 716