Dublin pass Mayo’s tough winter test at McHale Park

Mayo force Dublin to show their quality in bruising test on wet, dark night in the west

Mayo 0-7 Dublin 0-9

The boys of summer are no slouches on the black nights of winter either. Dublin left a wet, dark night in the west after wrestling two bruising Allianz league points out of a Mayo team which was clearly up for it.

This was an intriguing contest in appalling conditions and it was testy: two separate rows broke out during injury time as the home team sought to rescue something in front of a 10,520 and nary a politician in sight.

In the end, Dublin were simply more efficient at converting chances during a tempestuous second half played in heavy sheets of rain. James McCarthy, whose F1 athleticism is for all seasons, chipped a point between two Dean Rock frees to give the visitors a three point advantage which they held. There were glimpses of summer here- not least the moment when Aidan O'Shea brought down a ball and engaged the entire Dublin fullback line. He was called for charging with the ball but the moment will have registered with both managers. Mayo didn't cough up a single goal chance but didn't create one either. But as league defeats go, it was one they can live with.


There were lessons for other teams for other contenders to absorb here. Screw around on the ball against Dublin and you will be punished. If anything, they emphasised an ever more radical pressure game than last season. They pushed right up on the Mayo restart and even though Rob Hennelly did well in finding an initial target man, he had to go short- the wind was also a factor- and trying to play the ball through the sky blue cover was an ordeal. Dublin had ten men inside the Mayo half for most restarts, employing a tight man to man defence and inviting Mayo's ball carriers to have a go. It was high risk stuff: Diarmuid Connnolly's 20th minute point, high into the black night and off the post, came as a result of a turnover. For the next kick-out, Paul Mannion was in like a demon to double-team Caolan Crowe and for a moment, Mayo's goal was exposed.

So Mayo had to work ferociously hard just to break that first line of Dublin defence. The effect meant that Aidan O'Shea, notionally a centre-forward, and Tom Parsons had to drop ever deeper to provide options for the ball carriers. Consequently, the Mayo attacks were relatively rare in the first half. Fortunately, their conversion rate was high in what was a shockingly low scoring first half given the kind of scoring potential that both these teams possess. Twice Mayo found joy along the left flank, with the excellent Diarmuid O'Connor and Evan Regan clipping good scores and Rob Hennelly landed a terrific 50 into the wind to give the home team an advantage in the 25th minute.

By then, the home crowd had warmed to the theme of the evening. It was a night for dog-tough defending and hard work. This game was as far from ‘summer’ – and all its connotations – as you could hope to experience. Its charm was of hot-tea, huddling tight and - always a surprise – the theme from Harry’s Game on the loud speaker.

In the six days since Mayo's insipid defeat to Cork, manager Stephen Rochford clearly challenged his players to front up on defence. They did that in spades here. Only once were they caught out by a Dublin's strike runners, fouling James McCarthy as he came onto a flat pass at speed to break the cover. But overall, Mayo were discipline and crafty. Dublin love to suck the defender in and have perfected laying the pass off at the last minute: their Mayo markers didn't commit too early and guided the Dublin attackers down cul-de-sacs or forced shots under pressure: the results were five Dublin wides from play and three missed frees in the first half alone.

You had to suspect the Dublin management was delighted by the nature of the game. They know this team can overwhelm teams with its athleticism, skill level, speed, range of scorers etc. So it’s always nice to have an opportunity to see what they are like at winning ugly. Philly McMahon’s last minute introduction didn’t pan out too well: he was black carded for felling Aidan O’Shea with a tackle about which he knows better. No great consternation for the visitors: they had reigning footballer of the year Jack McCaffrey unzip his tracksuit and enter the theatre. A 50 by Dean Rock just before the break gave them a 0-4 to 0-3 advantage.

In many ways, the real game here was being played wherever the ball wasn’t. The exchanges were tough and needling and the tackling rapacious, both sides clearly mindful of future meetings. Diarmuid O’Connor was clattered late in the 38th minute but landed the score of the match minutes later to equalise. But playing into the wind, the Dubs carried the ball with more ease and once they got their noses in front, they controlled the rhythm of play.

Colm Boyle and John Smalle were sent off on a second yellow after a general skirmish but by then, the game was up. Mayo had chances to force a draw but the frees missed by Rob Hennelly and the lively Evan Regan were very tough. The Dubs deserved their win. In case we hadn't noticed, they showed again that they are not easily beaten.

DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton; 3 M Fitzsimons, 2 J Cooper, 4 D Byrne; 24 E O'Conghaille (0-1), 23 P McMahon, 6 J Small, 5 J McCarthy (0-1), 9 D Bastick (0-1), 10 T Brady, 11 D Connolly (0-1), 12 C Kilkenny; 13 P Andrews, 14 D Rock (0-4, 3 frees 50), 15 P Mannion.

Substitutes: 22 J McCaffrey for P McMahon (2 mins black card), 18 S Carthy for B Bastick (half time), 25 C Reddin for 10 T Brady (45 mins), 19 C Costello (0-1) for 15 P Mannion, (53 mins), P Ryan for P Andrews (64 mins), 21 D Daly for 2 J Cooper (70 mins black card).

MAYO: 1 R Hennelly (0-2 50s), 2 B Harrison, 3 G Cafferkey, 4 C Crowe; 5 D Vaughan, 6 C Boyle, 7 S BNally; 8 T Parsons, 20 M Hall; 10 C O'Shea, 11 A O'Shea, 12 D O'Connor (0-1) ; 13 E Regan (0-4, 3 frees), 14 J Doherty, 15 M Sweeney.

Substitutes: 9 J Gibbons for 8 T Parsons (half-time), 21 D Drake for D Vaughan (42 mins inj), 22 K Higgins for 20 M Hall (54 mins), 26 C Carolan for 15 M Sweeney (57 mins), 23 D McHale for c O’Shea (66 mins), 17 S McHale for 7 S Nally (70 mins).

Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times