By Larry Cooney at Croke Park
A last-gasp point from Mayo captain Cillian O’Connor earned the rank outsiders a thoroughly deserved draw against Dublin in last Sunday’s extraordinary All-Ireland football final. After a game played in dreadful conditions which made good football impossible, Stephen Rochford’s battling Mayo team showed tremendous character and resolve to overcome a luckless five-point interval deficit and subsequently come back from three points down with as many minutes of normal time left.
Played under floodlights since midway through the first half as the heavens rained down, O’Connor had only one thing in mind as he drove through the middle at the Davin End to kick his seventh point in the seventh minute of added time, after he and Donal Vaughan had kept the westerners in contention.
The sides will meet again on Saturday week and there is definitely room for improvement for both teams. But in truth there will be much soul-searching in the Dublin camp between now and the replay and unless Mayo produce another extraordinary tactical display it is difficult to see Dublin playing so poorly again.
When the teams emerged from their dressing-rooms and got to know one another as they made their ways onto the field 30 minutes before throw-in, we sensed this was going to be an unflinching contest.
Dublin won the toss and opted to attack the Davin End goals in the first half, which they didn’t do to very telling effect. Tom Parsons and Cillian O’Connor (free) gave the Connacht men an encouraging start. After Mayo had further points from O’Connor (free) and Vaughan in response to the two OGs, amazingly, despite not hitting any scores themselves, the hosts led by two points after half an hour (2-0 to 0-4).
Dublin could have had a third goal only for Clarke’s excellent save from Brian Fenton but, generally, Dublin’s first-half display was nowhere near their best.
For Mayo to hold the champions to no scores from play for 33 minutes and yet trail by five points at the short whistle must have been soul-destroying. Dublin led by double scores at the end of a bizarre opening half during which their opponents registered not one, but two own goals.
Now playing in customary sweeper role, Kevin McLoughlin had the misfortune of poking the ball past David Clarke in the ninth minute, while Colm Boyle did likewise when tackling Dean Rock after twenty-two minutes. Not one of Jim Gavin’s team had scored until the 31st minute, when Rock swept over a free to make it 2-1 to 0-4.
Substitute Paddy Andrews – a replacement for the wrongly black-carded James McCarthy – pointed either side of a Jason Doherty effort and a second Rock free closed the first-half scoring when the score was: Dublin 2-4 Mayo 0-5.
Similar to half-time in the Dublin-Kerry semifinal it was impossible to understand how the team who had played most of the football in the opening half were still trailing by five points. But the real worry from a Mayo point of view was surely that Dublin would now up their game and drive on for an inevitable victory.
But then Mayo showed some real fight when the action resumed. Andy Moran reduced the arrears within 30 seconds of the restart and it was a one-point game by the 40th minute after wing back Patrick Durcan and O’Connor (2) continued the fight-back.
O’Connor’s 46th-minute free had the sides level for the second time after Jonny Cooper and Rock had missed at the other end. Fenton landed Dublin’s first score of the second half in the 51st minute and Rock made it a two-point game as we went into the fourth quarter. Moran sliced a rasping shot a few inches over the Dublin crossbar to halve the deficit again and substitute Alan Dillon equalised six minutes from time.
Wing back John Small restored Dublin’s lead in the 66th minute and they had further quickfire points from Rock (free) and Connolly to move three clear with as any minutes left. But O’Connor’s sixth (free) and Vaughan’s second left the minimum between them again as we moved into seven minutes of injury-time.
Right at the end, the Ballintubber clubman – who shouldn’t have been on the field as he somehow survived a clear black-card transgression – hit the point that will bring these two teams back to GAA Headquarters on Saturday October 1.
Another capacity attendance of 82,257 looks assured for the replay. And as is the case in many replays it is the team that manages that time between the two games that is likely to prevail. The omens are not good for the underdogs Mayo once again but the Connacht men have so far exceeded all expectations and with their manager Stephen Rochford insisting that it is only half-time it is far from being a lost cause for the men in green and red.
It is the first time since 2000 and for only the fourteenth time in the history of the All-Ireland series the final ended in a draw.
Mayo were previously involved in an infamous All-Ireland final replay in 1996 when they lost to Meath but this is Dublin’s first experience of a drawn All-Ireland decider since 1894. But the big question is whether or not Mayo’s run of bad luck will finally end after 65 years on Saturday week.
SCORERS: DUBLIN: Dean Rock 0-4(0- 3)f, Kevin McLoughlin 1-0og, Colm Boyle 1-0og, Paddy Andrews 0-2, Diarmuid Connolly, Brian Fenton and John Small 0-1 each. MAYO: Cillian O’Connor 0- 7(0-5)f, Andy Moran and Donal Vaughan 0-2 each, Tom Parsons, Jason Doherty, Patrick Durcan, Alan Dillon 0-1 each
DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Philip McMahon, Jonny Cooper, David Byrne; James McCarthy, Cian O’Sulivan, John Small; Brian Fenton, Michael Darragh Macauley; Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon, Ciaran Kilkenny; Dean Rock, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan. SUBS: Paddy Andrews for McCarthy b/c 24; Paul Mannion for McManamon 47m, Michael Fitzsimons for Macauley 53, Eoghan O’Gara for Brogan 62; Darragh Daly for Byrne 66, Denis Bastick for Flynn 74.
MAYO: David Clarke; Brendan Harrision, Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Patrick Durcan; Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Jason Doherty, Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor. SUBS: Alan Dillon for S O’Shea 54, Chris Barrett for Boyle 58; Barry Moran for Dillon 67, Stephen Coen for D O’Connor 67, Evan Regan for A Moran 71, Conor Loftus for E Regan 79.
REFEREE: Conor Lane (Cork)