Mayo 0-10 Dublin 2-18
It is hard to believe that if and when these heavyweight teams collide in high summer that this cold night in Castlebar won’t prey on the minds of the Mayo men. Dublin tormented the Westerners here and left their All-Ireland ambitions appearing a lot more distant.
This was a gorgeous night for a match: 13, 548 showed up and as expected, Jim Gavin rolled out the Howitzers in two changes to the programme: in came Paull Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly.
It’s only the league and all that, but when two of the foremost All-Ireland candidates meet and the away team goes to town in the way that Dublin did here, it has to plant seeds of doubt.
Things fell apart a bit for Mayo. The Dubs constructed 1-5 without reply between the 6th and 14th minute and then outscored Mayo by 1-3 to 0-1 in a further 10 minute spell of merciless front-foot football later in the first half.
They blunted the famed Mayo half-back line by either passing the ball over them or having support runners like Denis Bastick and Johnny Cooper steaming through to keep the sky blue train in motion. And what was happening in Mayo's fullback line was disturbing for the home crowd to watch.
What happened here illuminated for all other teams the folly of trying to match the Dublin forwards with a one-one-one defensive set up. Kevin McManamon had the run of the park despite the best attentions of Kevin Keane and while Tom Cunniffe put in a typical sleeves-up shift, he lived dangerously.
Dublin's first goal came when Bernard Brogan somehow got his mitts on a ball which should have been bread and butter for the fullback line and then whipped a brilliant shot through Cunniffe and Keane. It met the crossbar but there was no surprise that it was met by a Dublin player, Denis Bastick, who fired home from close range.
The visitors were in again in the 18th minute, Dean Rock and McManamon linking beautifully but Brogan had his coordinates wrong when he elected to palm the ball towards the net with his back to goal. It will be chalked up as a miss but it was an indication of the sense of freedom and adventure that Dublin were playing with: they looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Why not? They landed pretty scores from further outfield as well, with Tomas Brady and Ciaran Kilkenny popping points under minimum pressure.
In contrast, Mayo attacks were built under all kinds of pressure. Dublin pressed the Mayo kick out boldly and didn’t allow any Mayo man to roam free. The early menace of Aidan O’Shea playing deep dissolved as Mayo recalled the big Breaffy man to try and win a bit of possession around the middle.
Time and time again, their strike runners were hunted down in scenes so reminiscent of wildlife documentaries that a David Attenborough commentary would not have been out of place. At times, Dublin pressed the kick-out so aggressively that they left the prairies of space which Donegal exploited last summer but this time, they were quick to regroup.
Mayo’s scores were isolated and without any pattern. They retreated for tea trailing by 0-6 to 2-10. Where was the cursed Castlebar fog when it was needed?
The second half was a non-event. Mayo clogged the defensive lines and the Dublin scoring rate slowed but they couldn’t make any real inroads at the other end. Their only real goal chance was stopped when Bastick gobbled up Mark Ronaldson’s close range shot with a courageous dive.
That play caught the essence of the Dublin approach here: all sharpness and urgency and authority. In contrast, Mayo continued to make it up as they went along, with defenders cracking shots from distance and not a single spell of sustained possession.
Perhaps the side were on the tail-end of a debilitating training regime. But on the evidence of tonight, they remain heavily dependent on Cillian O’Connor, who is out with a knee injury and they won’t want to face the metropolitans without a more defensively minded game plan.
The way this league is going, the sides may end up playing for spring silverware. You have to suspect that Mayo would be eager for another crack at the city side before summer comes.
MAYO : 1 R Hennelly; 2 T Cunniffe, 3 K Keane, 4 K Higgins; 5 L Keegan, 5 C Boyle, 7 P Durcan; 8 S O'Shea, 9 D Vaughan; 10 K McLoughlin (0-3 1 free), 11 A O'Shea, 12 D O'Connor, 13 M Ronaldson (0-1), 14 A Freeman, 15 J Doherty (0-4 3 frees).
Substitutes: D Kirby (0-1) for A Freeman (46 mins), S Coen for P Durcan (46 mins), A Dillon (0-1) for D O'Connor (50 mins), M Sweeney for M Ronaldson (52 mins), B Moran for S O'Shea (54 mins), C Cafferkey for D Vaughan (64 mins).
DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton: 2 E Culligan, 3 R O'Carroll, 4 J Cooper (0-1); 5 P McMahon, 6 C O'Sullivan, 7 J McCaffrey (0-1); 8 D Bastick (1-0), 10 T Brady (0-2), 22 P Flynn (0-1), 18 D Connolly (0-1), 12 C Kilkenny (0-5); 15 B Brogan (1-1), 11 D Rock (0-5 frees), 13 K McManamon.
Substitutes: M Fitzsimons for R O'Carroll (half-time), J Small for E Culligan (50 mins inj.), B Fenton for D Bastick (59 mins), E O'Gara for B Brogan (59 mins), J McMcCarthy for T Brady (61 mins), P Ryan (0-1) for K McManamon (64 mins).
P O’Sullivan (Kerry).