Dublin forced to dig deep to edge enthralling endgame
Dean Rock’s free kick deep in injury time ensures three-in-a-row and heartache for Mayo
Cillian O’Connor misses a late free for Mayo. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Dublin 1-17 Mayo 1-16
So, it is Dublin who make history in 2017, winning football’s first three-in-a-row in 31 years and the county’s first since the 1923 All-Ireland. They misfired at stages and endured both the hardship of losing a key player and a gale-force Mayo challenge.
Yet when full time sounded, they had yet again scooped the pot by the narrowest of margins: five of Dublin’s last six All-Irelands have been won by a point.
They kicked for home and their latest success with the help of the much lauded bench, from which second-half replacements Kevin McManamon, driving at Mayo in typical fashion, and Diarmuid Connolly, able to hold possession and bring some order to their attacks, arrived to have a major impact.
There were also ramped-up contributions from Paul Mannion and James McCarthy and the champions both did enough and deserved to get over the line.
It was yet another agonising episode in the travails of Mayo. Stephen Rochford’s team maintained the rising trajectory of recent matches by coming at Dublin with everything.
Yet as if in some recurring nightmare, Mayo watched as Dean Rock addressed a free kick for a foul on Connolly in the sixth minute of injury time with scores level. Not a formality but about 40 metres out and to the left on the Canal End goalposts and Dublin’s place kicker steered it over the bar for a 1-17 to 1-16 lead.
It wasn’t over at that point but the challengers looked exhausted and when goalkeeper David Clarke sized up the restart options, his outfield players weren’t models of kinetic energy and in the urgency to get up field, the kick-out drifted over the Cusack side-line.
A year ago at the end of last year’s drawn final, there was controversy as Connolly took a pop at pointing a line-ball with a minute left on the clock instead of playing keep ball. There was no such miscalculation this time and an extensive phase of tossing possession back and forth finally concluded after 78 minutes had elapsed.
Maybe it was inevitable that it would come down to this. Despite all Dublin’s efforts at redrawing their season’s preparations to peak at the championship climax, yet again they went through the curious experience of winning an All-Ireland final while not playing anything near their best.
Mayo can take huge credit for much of that but at the end of a match in which whoever lost would have been wracked by remorse, there were a number of issues that undid them.
Most prominent was the 48th-minute incident in which Dublin’s John Small pole-axed Colm Boyle with a frontal challenge and already on a yellow, was a red man walking. Inexplicably Donal Vaughan charged in and meted out his own retribution, ensuring that Small didn’t make the journey off unaccompanied and that a kickable free for Mayo was overturned.
Then in injury-time, Cillian O’Connor also revisited 12 months ago when with a free in more or less the same spot from where he had failed to tie up last year’s replay, on this occasion he hit the post and no Mayo players were around to challenge the rebound.
Minutes later, Rock got his chance and this time the barrel was loaded.
It was a match that retraced the history between the teams. Dublin started Eoghan O’Gara instead of Niall Scully and Mayo put Paddy Durcan in place of Diarmuid O’Connor. The champions’ change didn’t pay off as there was a shortage of serviceable early ball into O’Gara whose impact off the bench later in the match was also missed.
Mayo survived a blistering start by Dublin – gilded rookie Con O’Callaghan weaving past both Colm Boyle and Vaughan with a minute and 23 on the clock and sliding a chilled finish beyond Clarke for the best possible start.
Mayo predictably were nothing daunted and edged their way back into the game, reclaiming the three points with Andy Moran – blithely ignoring the promise of tighter defending to help himself to another three points – Vaughan and the energetic Kevin McLaughlin equalising.
The match moved beyond Dublin. Mayo’s centrefield of Séamie O’Shea, Tom Parsons and with Aidan O’Shea dropping in, took a grip, raiding Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs and winning more than half. Further turbulence for Dublin was Rock’s early inaccuracies, missing a 45 and dropping a scoring chance short.
Possibly the heaviest blow of adversity came in the sixth minute when Jack McCaffrey, already looking penetrative and lively, slipped and hurt his knee. Unable to run it off in the corner he had to be replaced by Paul Flynn.
Rock trimmed the margin to the minimum on the stroke of half-time and yet again the sense was that Mayo should have more to show for 35 minutes dominating possession but five wides and a shot dropped short by Lee Keegan who roared back into form, completely shutting down Dublin’s play maker Ciarán Kilkenny, who recovered at the end but ended up with a black card in the 77th minute, and getting what looked like a vital goal at the start of the final quarter.
Mayo’s defence also lived up to their reputation with Chris Barrett exceptional, making virtuoso interventions on a number of Dublin forwards, tackling like a demon and stripping possession from Paddy Andrews and Rock.
Dublin’s second-half improvement didn’t go unchallenged and Keegan’s goal – brilliantly engineered by Cillian O’Connor and Moran – put them back in the lead, 1-12 to 1-11. Connolly’s equaliser was noteworthy, riding a foul on advantage and kicking a great point.
The match had nearly lurched even before Keegan’s goal and both Cluxton, point blank from Doherty, and David Clarke, thwarting Mannion, kept out great chances.
It will haunt Mayo that they led by two, 1-15 to 1-13 in the 63rd minute.
But the storm was gathering and Mayo fading. McCarthy was excellent for two points and a brilliant catch over Aidan O’Shea to instigate the move that ended in the decisive free.
Before that, Rock had already marked himself as the top scorer from play in the final and in the 67th minute slipped by Barrett and with a goal chance on, took the option of an easy point to take the lead at 1-16 to 1-15. Cillian O’Connor conjured an equaliser out of nothing before the drama of the end game brought Dublin a three-in-a-row and the county’s 27th title.
DUBLIN: 1. S Cluxton (capt.), 4. M Fitzsimons, 2. P McMahon, 5. J Cooper, 3. C O’Sullivan, 6. J Small (0-1), 7. J McCaffrey, 8. B Fenton (0-1), 9. J McCarthy (0-2), 15. D Rock (0-7, three frees), 11. C O’Callaghan (1-0), 10. C Kilkenny; 13. P Mannion (0-3), 26. E O’Gara (0-1), 14. P Andrews.
Subs: 22. P Flynn for McCaffrey (9 mins), 25. K McManamon (0-1) for O’Gara (half-time), 19. D Connolly (0-1) for Andrews (half-time), 17. B Brogan for Flynn (65 mins), 12. N Scully for O’Callaghan (68 mins), 20. C Costello for Mannion (74 mins).
MAYO: 1 D Clarke, 6. C Barrett, 2. B Harrison, 18. P Durcan, 5. L Keegan (1-0), 7 C Boyle (0-1), 4 K Higgins; 8 S O’Shea, 9 T Parsons, 10 K McLoughlin (0-2), 11. A O’Shea, 3. D Vaughan (0-1); 13 J Doherty (0-2), 14 C O’Connor (capt; 0-7, four frees), 15 A Moran (0-3).
Subs: 12. D O’Connor for S O’Shea (51 mins), 19 S Coen for Boyle (56 mins), 23 C Loftus for Moran (63 mins), 20. D Drake for Doherty (70 mins), 22. D Kirby for McLoughlin (75 mins), 17. G Cafferkey for Higgins (76 mins),
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).