Dublin 0-12 Mayo 2-11
Saturday night in the capital wasn’t without moments of lighter lunacy. The soft groans coming from some Dublin supporters after a couple of their own players kicked awkwardly into the Hill 16 end late in the game certainly raised some smiles, and not just among the Mayo folk in the crowd.
What ultimately mattered and will be remembered is how it ended - Mayo maintaining their unbeaten start to the league, Dublin further extending their losing streak which began here against the same opposition last August. One of these days Dublin might come out and play like a team of bears poked all over, only for the now the challenge is simply to win again.
A third straight defeat at home, their fourth in all, hasn’t happened to Dublin since the poor old days of 2001. They escaped relegation that year, and of course still have a few big names to come back, but their old sweetness of movement and lightning-quick hand-pass only appeared in snatches, made worse perhaps by their unfamiliar tendency to shoot when well out of range.
There were young Dublin players across every line, none however stepping up to the ranks of Dean Rock, Brian Fenton and especially Ciarán Kilkenny. Mayo’s five-point margin winning was utterly more convincing than what happened here last August, Dublin’s confidence in themselves visibly weakening as time played on. Three sole points in the second half, including a free from Rock, doesn’t suggest things are going in the right direction either.
The weather was gloomy and threatened worse, the persistent rain ensuring there was plenty of spilled ball. Still, Dublin did most of the spilling, from the beginning, and manager Dessie Farrell conceded afterwards that Mayo played with more consistency.
“Mayo are really well set up,” he said, “well organised, in great, peak physical condition and are on a trajectory that is set to continue for them, I have no doubt.
“We’re lagging a bit behind in that regard so we know we have work to do. Some of the younger players, it’s a big step up for them and there’s a lot of learning for them to understand systems, game plans, that type of thing. They’re trying really, really hard. They’re really keen and eager, which is great to see, their attitude is spot-on, and to be fair the senior players have been great to embrace so many new players into the squad and they’re great teachers in their own right.”
By throw-in the crowd had gently swelled to 24,180, some arriving early with GAA almanacs, well aware of the recent history here. Mayo had come armed with incentive, looking to beat Dublin in the league for the first time in 10 years - that one back in Castlebar - and beat them in the league in Dublin for the first time in 51 years.
Dublin’s confidence was clearly shaken by conceding two sort of messy goals in the first half, one courtesy in part of goalkeeper Evan Comerford, which meant they were three points down at the break, 2-6 to 0-9, a position they were at least used to from their opening defeats to Armagh and Kerry.
Mayo hadn’t scored a league goal against Dublin since 2014; they got two inside the opening half here, Dublin giving them a hand - or a head rather - with the first.
In the 21st minute, just when Dublin looked to have found some rhythm to their play, up 0-5 to 0-4 thanks mainly to Kilkenny’s vibrant enthusiasm, Diarmuid O’Connor sent a neat pass from under the Hogan Stand into the path of debutant Jack Carney, who promptly turned on goal. His shot touched off Comerford’s leg and then off the upright, rebounding into Comerford’s head and with that back into the goal.
Dublin managed to level it for the third time, 1-5 to their 0-8, thanks to Ross McGarry, after a sort of crazy lull in attacking play from both teams. Three minutes before the break, Mayo struck at goal again, O'Donoghue sending a dangerous pass into the goalmouth over Comerford, caught out of position, and in the leap for the ball the lively Aiden Orme got his hands in over Mick Fitzsimons.
The excellent Rob Hennelly jogged up before the break to add a 45-metre free, leaving Mayo three points up, 2-6 to 0-9. Overall Mayo played in far more lively fits and healthy spurts, finishing with eight different scorers, Bryan Walsh and Michael Plunkett getting in on the action in the second half, with O’Connor and the mighty Matthew Ruane both hitting two each from play.
Some of Dublin’s senior players struggled too, Niall Scully and Brian Howard shooting well off target. Farrell wasn’t making any great excuses, knowing another defeat to Kildare next weekend will not sit pretty.
“Missing some senior players has made that more challenging in terms of the results, and obviously more challenging for the young lads, because they are stepping in cauldrons left, right and centre. We don’t like to lose. You just have to take it on the chin, suck it up, and find a way. It’s really important as a group that we stay positive, stay true to what we’re about.”
For James Horan, the Mayo manager also in charge for the last league win over Dublin in 2012, the immediate positives appeared obvious: "Look, from our regard we are just trying to keep working. We improved a few things from the Donegal and Monaghan game and we were a bit better tonight. So we are happy to continue on with that.
“Dublin are missing a lot of players, we’ve banged into them long enough to know that they have an awful lot of players to come back into that. They won’t be happy with their performance, and some of their shooting. So we have to factor that in as well. From what we could do, and from where are in the season, we will take that.”
Dublin: E Comerford (1-0, own goal); L Gannon, D Byrne; M Fitzsimons; T Lahiff, J Small (0-1), S McMahon; B Fenton, B Howard; N Scully, C Kilkenny (0-3, one mark), B Bugler (0-1); R McGarry (0-2, one mark), R Basquel, D Rock (0-4, all frees).
Subs: L O'Dell (0-1) for McGarry (40 mins), J Cooper for Basquel (50 mins), A Wright for Howard, C Murphy for Gannon (both 65 mins), H Ladd for Scully (72 mins).
Mayo: R Hennelly (0-2, both 45m); L Keegan, R Brickenden, M Plunkett (0-2); O Mullin (0-1), S Coen, D McHugh; M Ruane (0-2), J Flynn; B Walsh (0-1), D O'Connor (0-2), J Carney; P Towey, R O'Donoghue, A Orme (1-1).
Subs: C Loftus for Towey, K McLoughlin for Carney (both 49 mins), E Hession for Mullin (60 mins), A O'Shea for Ruane (62 mins), F Boland for O'Donoghue (65 mins).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).