Drama at the death as Mayo Under-21s edge Dublin
Connacht champions come from four points behind in closing stages of Tullamore semi
Mayo’s Matthew Ruane celebrates a dramatic late win over Dublin in the U-21 semi-final Photograph: Inpho/Donall Farmer
Mayo 1-15 Dublin 1-14
It’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved in 15 years but Mayo are now just a game away from claiming All-Ireland minor and U-21 titles with the same core group of players.
Tyrone were the last team to do that, backing up their minor win of 1998 with the 2001 Under-21 crown and if Mayo can repeat that rare feat then Stephen Coen will etch his name in history as captain of both the 2013 and 2016 sides.
The character of Michael Solan’s side certainly isn’t in question after courageous comebacks in their last two games to secure an April 30th final date with Cork.
Against Roscommon in the provincial final, they took the lead for the first time with three minutes to go. On Saturday afternoon in Tullamore, they trailed by four points with just eight minutes remaining but got the job done again, Conor Loftus converting two hugely important injury-time frees.
Both kicks were won by Diarmuid O’Connor, the young footballer of the year and their goalscorer, with the first from Loftus levelling the game before his 65th minute winner.
Mayo should, of course, have made life easier for themselves with a seven-point lead early on but the manner of the late comeback made the win all the sweeter.
“Look, you always worry,” said Solan. “You spend 60 minutes on the sideline worrying, to be honest. We were worried about various things but knowing the character of these boys, you never think it’s gone.
“We were hoping that there was always going to be a push in them. Thankfully it turned out that way. It was just what we’d said to the players all the time really; focus on the next ball, on the next thing you have to do, on the next job. We just try to keep it very simple and that was the message all along from the side line.
“When you finish strong like we did, we’ll certainly take that. To be four points down and get ourselves back into that position, it was a serious effort.”
Loftus, who converted four frees in total, is a Mayo senior and netted an important Allianz goal against Monaghan last month.
“Conor took his kicks well but he’s a very experienced player at this level. He’s played a fair bit of senior football for Mayo and he’s got as good a strike of the ball as you’ll find. I’m sure Conor felt the pressure but it didn’t show in his execution.”
Midfielder Coen, an AIB All-Ireland intermediate club finalist with Hollymount/Carramore last February, is one of eight starters from the 2013 minor final in the current U-21 side.
They thrilled early on and O’Connor’s 10th minute goal helped them to a 1-7 to 0-4 half-time advantage. But Dublin came from seven down to beat Kildare in the Leinster final and almost did so again.
They dominated the third quarter and outscored Mayo 1-6 to 0-1. Senior panellist Con O’Callaghan netted in the 40th minute and hit 1-5 overall, bringing his tally to 3-24 in the competition.
Mayo: M Flanagan; E O’Donoghue, S Cunniffe, D Kenny; M Plunkett, M Hall, S Akram (0-1); M Ruane (0-1), S Coen (0-1); F Boland (0-2), C Loftus (0-4, frees), D O’Connor (1-1); L Irwin (0-4, three frees), F Duffy (0-1), B Reape. Subs: E Doran for Cunniffe (h-t), J Carr for Duffy (42 mins), J Kelly for Plunkett ( 51 mins). Dublin: L Molloy; S McMahon, E Smith, S Clayton; C O’Shea, M Cahilan, B Howard; K Deeley, A Foley; T Lahiff, C Basquel (0-3), G O’Reilly (0-1); P Small (0-1, 1f), C O’Callaghan (1-5, 0-3 frees), M Deegan (0-3). Subs: E Murchan (0-1) for Cahilan (24 mins), D Spillane for Small (38 mins), K Doherty for Deeley (45 mins), A Elliot for O’Reilly (56 mins), D Monaghan for Smith (62 mins). Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh).