Dublin seem to be getting stronger as they tick games off
It’s now 33 games unbeaten for the All-Ireland champions, stretching over two years
Dublin’s Michael Darragh Macauley and Tom Parsons of Mayo clash for the ball during their Allianz League tie at Croke Park. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
So much for Dublin’s unbeaten streak becoming a burden on them. The theory abounded in some quarters last week that they’d be as well getting a defeat out of the way some time soon, maybe even against Mayo, just to clear the heads and get their minds on the job. Prevent it becoming too much of a driving force.
Christ, we talk some guff when it comes to football, don’t we?
On Saturday night, a Dublin team containing only seven of their starting 15 from last year’s All-Ireland final replay didn’t so much beat Mayo as knock them over in the street and plough on without a backward glance. They reminded you of nothing so much as Brian Cody’s Kilkenny at their zenith – ravenous, merciless, technically pristine. If the unbeaten streak is driving them, they might make it to 50 before they tire of it. Two-year barrier As it stands, this pushes them on to 33 and takes the streak over the two-year barrier. If they beat Kerry in Tralee on Saturday week, they’ll equal the Kerry team of the 1930s.
They will likely have Cian O’Sullivan and Jonny Cooper back for that game, possibly Diarmuid Connolly and James McCarthy too. They could even have Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion, whose absence here brought a stiff rebuke from Jim Gavin, describing the Sigerson finals weekend as “something you wouldn’t do to a greyhound”.
No, Dublin aren’t toiling under the yoke of a 33-game unbeaten run. Just the opposite – they’re revelling in every chance they get to extend it.
Their second string players are coming along very nicely, with Conor McHugh popping up for 1-3 here and Niall Scully polishing his reputation yet again. Philly McMahon took man of the match but you could just as plausibly have sent Michael Darragh Macauley, Brian Fenton or Dean Rock home with the glassware. It was a complete performance.
But Mayo. Oh, Mayo. Come the high days of summer, chances are nothing we saw here will amount to a hill of beans. Yet if Mayo take an outsized level of heat for this, it’s only because when they’re this bad, they conform to the worst of people’s suspicions and prejudices.
None of their forwards scored from play. The wide count rose to 15, with six dropped short and three shots at goal that barely raised Stephen Cluxton’s heart-rate. Even goalkeeper David Clarke, the one bright spot on the night with a string of quite brilliant saves, went back west with black marks against his name due to Dublin comprehensively routing his kick-outs.
“We really, really underperformed there tonight,” admitted Stephen Rochford afterwards. “Any game you go into, you understand that there will be a winner and a loser but you ask that you go and perform. We didn’t and that’s the most disappointing thing. Curiously wan “We didn’t win enough 50-50 ball or breaking ball. Men ran by us. We didn’t work hard enough. That’s only a reflection of how hard Dublin worked. They pushed us off the ball, they turned our men, they ran hard at goal. And we didn’t have the answers.”
If it was a curiously wan night’s work from Mayo, Dublin couldn’t have been any more full of bloodlust. They bullied the Mayo kick-out, thieving their first goal when Niall Scully bounded onto a loopy David Clarke scoop after nine minutes and fed Kilkenny in space. Dublin’s main provider drew his man and left McHugh with a simple palm to the net.
That pushed Dublin 1-2 to 0-0 ahead. Full forward Eoghan O’Gara missed two sitters before there were even 20 minutes on the clock. His first went wide, his second flashed across the face of goal and out over the sideline. By half-time, Dublin led 1-5 to 0-2, Eric Lowndes and Philly McMahon both popping up with points from distance as Mayo stood off and waved them through. The second half was more of the same. Mayo never raised any bit of a gallop and any time they threatened to, Dublin grabbed the rein tight and put them in the place.
Mayo’s first three points after the restart were answered within a minute at the other end – the ease with which Rock, McMahon and Lowndes were able to reply told you all you needed to know about the prospects of a comeback. This game was dead long before the end.