We know just how hard it is to beat Dublin. But whatever ambition any team might have of doing so, it can only realistically hope to succeed if it keeps fifteen players on the pitch against them.
Tonight, however, an incredibly harsh straight red card issued to Jordan Flynn after just fifteen minutes meant we had to face the five-in-a-row All-Ireland champions down a man for the bulk of the match. It was only going to go the one way from there.
More’s the pity because we started the game really well, outplaying and outworking them for the bulk of the first half. We looked well up for this one, with Dublin, by contrast, appearing extremely sluggish for long stretches.
In front of a monstrous MacHale Park crowd – that numbered more than 15,000 – we were out of the blocks straight away tonight. Aidan O’Shea, who lined out instead of Kevin McLoughlin, finished off our first attack with our opening score after just thirty seconds.
We owned the ball in the early stages. James Carr quickly proved himself a good outlet inside as we tackled and harried further back to win possession and set up a succession of attacks.
We had two wides apiece before Dublin got the equaliser after eight minutes. Ciaran Kilkenny burst clear of his marker and shot over off his right.
Michael Plunkett hit our fourth wide of the evening – after just nine minutes – before Aidan O’Shea was pulled down on the 45 metre line. It was borderline black but Barry Cassidy kept his book in his pocket. It wouldn’t, though, stay there for long and his paws were never far from it thereafter whenever any of our lads put in any kind of physical challenge.
Diarmuid O’Connor rammed over the free from off the ground to edge us back in front. Then James Carr lofted a monstrous effort from way out that fell sharply to earth out of the night sky, with just enough legs on it to creep over Comerford’s bar.
We were well on top then. But suddenly, out of nowhere, came the incident that changed the course of this game. Jordan Flynn barged in high, late and clumsily on John Small but no way was it red. Barry Cassidy thought otherwise, however, and we were down a man with just fifteen minutes played.
There and then Dublin had been handed the winning of the game. They knew it, we knew it, the 15,000 supporters in the ground knew it. They all knew it wasn’t a red either, as did all three pundits on Eir Sport at half-time.
Despite this, Dublin still struggled to rouse themselves. A close-in free was converted by Rock after 19 minutes, ending a barren ten-minute spell for them.
By now, our wide count was starting to mount. James Carr was off target three times in succession, the third after he’d claimed a mark but put his effort wide off the post, to push our miss tally to seven. It would reach double figures by the end.
James Durcan finished off a nice intricate move to edge us back two in front ten minutes before half-time. But our period of dominance was quite clearly at an end. Now Dublin owned the ball, languidly tossing it around over and back as they figured out how best to break us down.
It was obvious that it was now just a question of how long it would take them to reel us in. Their lethargy meant that this didn’t happen as fast as it should have done. Ominously, however, by half-time they were level.
McManamon and Fergal Boland (a converted mark, converted exquisitely off the outside of his boot) traded points and then Dublin got an extremely soft free well within range. Small was already falling when he was adjudged to have been fouled by Colm Boyle. Worse still from our point of view was that Colm hurt his knee in the tangle.
Rock pointed the free. Then, after Fergal Boland had a shot for a point blocked down, Dublin broke rapidly, the downfield move finished off by McCarthy to level the match on the stroke of half-time.
We made two changes for the second half. Boyler had hobbled from the field at the conclusion of the first half and it was no surprise that he didn’t reappear, with Lee Keegan replacing him to get his first bit of action in 2020. James Carr was also withdrawn at this point, with Tommy Conroy coming on for the Ardagh man.
Our only hope in the second half was to prevent them getting a decisive lead on us. That worked for ten minutes, when a succession of Dublin attacks only yielded them a single point, converted by Dan O’Brien a minute after the restart. But then Rock connected brilliantly with a ball in along the line from McManamon and guided it past Robbie Hennelly to the net.
There was simply no way back from there. How could there be? Sure Kerry couldn’t master Dublin when they were a man up so expecting us to do so hobbled as we were with them finally motoring was more than a bit fanciful.
We didn’t help our cause, I know, with the number of chances we missed – comfortably into double-digits when you count wides and shots that failed to make the distance – but these misses weren’t the main factor that turned this game in the direction it went.
Barry Cassidy was. The sending-off was ludicrous and the Derry official went on to issue six yellow cards to our lads for nothing more than innocuous challenges. A number of the frees given to Dublin were also extremely charitable – not that they needed such help – as we were subjected to a refereeing performance that, from our perspective, would have made Maurice Deegan look even-handed. It was appalling.
In all likelihood, Dublin would still have won this game had it remained a 15 v 15 contest. When they finally woke from their slumbers they were the better team but it took the bulk of the first half for them to rouse themselves. Once the goal went in, though, they closed out the win with increasing confidence, as the world and its spouse would have expected them to.
After they’d pushed six ahead we sensibly withdrew Aidan O’Shea on the 55-minute mark. James McCormack came on for him, with Kevin McLoughlin having replaced Ryan O’Donoghue a few minutes earlier.
All the life had been sucked from the contest by then. We eventually got off the mark in the second half when James Durcan pointed a free after Lee Keegan was fouled.
Soon after Dublin were reduced to fourteen players for ten minutes when Mick Fitzsimons was black carded. That decision was wrong too, as the foul merited no more than yellow. Which just goes to show that Barry Cassidy wasn’t rubbish solely because of how he treated us, though, for sure, we suffered most from his incompetence.
Tommy Conroy shot a nice point under pressure to cut the gap briefly to four but it was back out to six again soon after. In injury time we had both Stephen Coen and Michael Plunkett yellow carded within thirty seconds of each other as the card-happy ref kept flashing the paperwork in our direction.
They pushed seven ahead via sub Aaron Byrne. We had the final say on the scoreboard, however, with Fergal Boland – who was excellent for us tonight – shooting from distance to cut the final losing margin to six points.
Losing this game to Dublin was, ultimately, no great shock. That kind of outcome was well priced in ahead of throw-in but the encouraging way we tore into them early on certainly wasn’t. The heart and workrate we showed in the first half was hugely encouraging and against other opposition in this Division – allied to a ref who can do his bloody job properly – such an approach will reap its rewards.
There’s no way, then, that we should be despondent about this defeat, even if it’s yet another one to a team we’ve been losing against constantly for the best part of a full decade at this stage. We won’t have to face Dublin again for a while and, if we show the same attitude against the teams we will be facing in the coming weeks as we did tonight, we’ll do alright.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Padraig O’Hora, Oisin Mullin, Brendan Harrison; Michael Plunkett, Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan; Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1, free); Fergal Boland (0-2), Ryan O’Donoghue, Jordan Flynn; Aidan O’Shea (0-1), James Carr (0-1), James Durcan (0-2, one free). Subs: Lee Keegan for Colm Boyle (inj.), Tommy Conroy (0-1) for Carr, Kevin McLoughlin for O’Donoghue, James McCormack for O’Shea, Conor Loftus for James Durcan.
Who was our MOTM against Dublin? Pick your top three performers
- Padraig O'Hora (23%, 339 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (17%, 253 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (16%, 234 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (13%, 187 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (7%, 105 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (4%, 61 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (3%, 45 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (3%, 44 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (3%, 42 Votes)
- James Carr (3%, 40 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (2%, 33 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (2%, 24 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (1%, 20 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 13 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (1%, 12 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 8 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (0%, 7 Votes)
- James Durcan (0%, 5 Votes)
- James McCormack (0%, 3 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 803