Dublin seem a league apart but O’Neill still has points to make
Jim Gavin’s team defeat Mayo to move into NFL final, where they’ll meet Tyrone
Dublin’s Jason Whelan scores his first-half goal against Mayo in the Allianz NFL semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
An afternoon of roundly confirmed suspicions in Croke Park. A crowd of 24,941 came to the big horseshoe in Dublin 3 and left with no greater sum of knowledge than that with which they had arrived. Dublin are the league’s best side and could very well be the country’s.
Tyrone still retain the ability to take a punch without crumpling in a heap, even as the majority of their All-Ireland medals have ducked through the ropes. Mayo and Kildare will be the dog against most teams but will likely find one to make them the lamp-post the nearer we get to September.
The upshot is a league final in a fortnight that pits Jim Gavin in his first season against Mickey Harte in his 11th. Dublin beat Mayo by 2-16 to 0-16, making this the fifth game of seven that they’ve taken by six or more points.
Fluidity of passing
The pace of their play and the rat-a-tat fluidity of their passing has made them too much to bear for most teams they’ve come across and now Mayo have had the pleasure twice. Both time James Horan’s side have offered up 16 points, both time they’ve found Dublin with a couple of goals to best them.
It didn’t even matter here that they started better and were comfortably the superior side for the opening spell. Jason Doherty drew the first of what would be three demoralising saves from Stephen Cluxton after 10 minutes and although Cillian O’Connor tapped over a free to put Mayo 0-3 to 0-0 ahead, it gave Dublin a rope to cling to. Within just seven minutes they left Mayo coughing in their wake, pinging a rapid 2-4 without reply to build a lead that was never seriously threatened for the rest of the day.
Gavin gently corrected us later when asked about the strides being made, most especially by his younger players. “We don’t call them younger players,” he said. “We call them Dublin players.” Whatever his name for them, the likes of Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey have spun gold at every opportunity through the league and they were terrific again yesterday. Mannion was man of the match for the third game in a row and ended the day with 1-4 to his name, including a rollicking goal to open Dublin’s account on 13 minutes.
McCaffrey got on the scoresheet himself soon after and along with the relentless foraging of Ger Brennan and Darren Daly, Dublin’s half-back line was a constant source of danger. Their direct running at the Mayo defence caused no end of trouble and another burst of scoring – this time four unanswered points just before half-time including two pearlers from Diarmuid Connolly – effectively ended the contest.
Mayo were better than the 2-9 to 0-5 scoreline that shone from the board after half an hour and they spent the rest of the game showing as much. With Aidan O’Shea taking it upon himself to impose some order around the middle of the field, they scored six of the next seven points to bring the margin back to a more manageable five. But just when they looked like maybe making a game of it, Cluxton made another fine stop – this time from Donal Vaughan. Within a minute, Bernard Brogan had a point on the board down the other end. Game, set, match.
The early game was a tighter affair, with Tyrone ultimately coming through by 2-15 to 2-11. Goals from Matthew and Mark Donnelly early in both halves kept them in a game that Kildare occasionally looked set to run away with and they dug in to gain the upper hand as the clock ran down. Paul Cribbin’s late goal for Kildare threatened extra-time but matters were put to bed by two utterly majestic late points from Stephen O’Neill.