Dublin 2-16 Mayo 0-16: Dublin did enough at Croke Park yesterday to ensure that their Allianz Football League season goes to the final day. After powering up the gears to retrieve a ineffectual start, Jim Gavin's men hit the cruise control and kept Mayo at arm's length throughout a more evenly contested second half.
It would have been a let-down for the table toppers had they ended up not contesting the final but there was also enough issues generated to keep the team focused in the next fortnight.
Against an understrength Mayo attack, Dublin still managed to cough up a couple of goal chances and it took the uncanny shot-stopping of captain Stephen Cluxton to forestall any green flags even against a side which had managed just two during the divisional campaign, one of which came from a defender Keith Higgins who was unable to play yesterday.
The All Star corner back was more missed in his natural habitat as young Paul Mannion landed himself another man of the Match award from TG4 after scoring 1-4, all but a point of which came from play.
Paddy Andrews was one of just two starting forwards not to score and he was denied a goal by a 69th-minute goal-line intervention from Séamus O'Shea. It wasn't all bad news in that Ger Cafferkey played better on the returning Bernard Brogan than a return of 0-4 from play might indicate - after all, when the teams met last month the 2010 Footballer of the Year scored 1-10 (1-4 of which was from play).
Mayo played a surprisingly open game even when it was evident that Dublin's supporting runners from deep were creating too many chances.
It started more promisingly for the Connacht champions, who went three points up in the early exchanges. Cathal Carolan dummied adroitly and pointed and either side of the score Cillian O'Connor, settling back impressively into the team after injury, pointed frees, the second coming from the first goal opportunity when Cluxton saved from Jason Doherty but picked the ball off the ground outside the small rectangle.
It was all Mayo. Their backs were untroubled apart from a few half-hearted wides and Donal Vaughan got up the field on unchallenged sorties. It was accordingly all the more dispiriting for Mayo when their early domination was blown apart in a little less time than the 11 minutes it had taken to establish the three-point lead.
Firstly Mannion, the most prominent of the new forwards in the campaign to date, attacked the left wing and brought Kevin Keane trailing in along the end-line.
His acute-angle shot beat David Clarke at his near post. That was in the 13th minute and two minutes later Brogan and Paul Flynn combined to give Jason Whelan (making his first start for Dublin - his B a l l y m u n club-mate James Burke was a late addition to the Mayo bench) a sight of goal and his ballistic dispatch made it 2-1 to 0-3.
These were just the high points in an unanswered scoring sequence of 2-4 that left Mayo seven behind, a distance they never meaningfully shortened for the remainder of the match. It was nearly 10 in that Clarke had to save from Mannion after Jack McCaffrey had made the first of many flying raids from right wing back. Ger Brennan was the orchestrator for this decisive scoring burst, popping up from centre back to make significant contributions in the lead-up to most of the early scores.
Mayo resisted without ever threatening. Michael Conroy brought Jonny Cooper to earth a week after he had played so well on Michael Murphy by getting on a pile of ball and kicking three points. Cooper's afternoon ended in misfortune after he was knocked over by a hefty rugby hand-off from O'Connor - who kicked his only point from play but was subsequently yellow carded - before being substituted.
Dublin led by seven at the break, 2-9 to 0-8 but the urgency dropped in the second half and Mayo actually won the latter period by a point.
The project of playing Aidan O'Shea at centre forward was unavailing and Mayo got a better return when he reverted to
centrefield from where he was more involved and kicked a couple of good points from play. Dublin always looked capable of lifting it when threatened and never allowed Mayo string together more than two unanswered scores. Vaughan had a good chance cleared but Mayo had to make their own interventions with Clarke reliving last summer's dramatics when saving from Brogan after Macauley's loping run had opened up the defence.
Dublin now face Tyrone the one team to have beaten them in the league. It will be the first final meeting between the counties
DUBLIN: S Cluxton (0-1, free); J Cooper, K O’Brien, P McMahon; J McCaffrey (0-1), G Brennan, D Daly (0-1); MD Macauley, C O’Sullivan; J Whelan (1-1), D Connolly (0-3), P Flynn; P Mannion (1-4, one point free), P Andrews, B Brogan (0-4).
Subs: N Devereux for Daly (47 mins), D Bastick for O’Sullivan (50 mins), B Cullen for Flynn (54 mins), K McManamon for Connolly (56 mins), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (65 mins).
MAYO: D Clarke (capt.); G Cafferkey, C Barrett, K Keane; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; J Gibbons (0-1), S O’Shea; K McLoughlin (0-1, free), A O’Shea (0-2), C Carolan (0-1); C O’Connor (0-8, seven frees), J Doherty, M Conroy (0-3).
Subs: R Feeney for Doherty (half-time), B Gallagher for Gibbons (45 mins), M Walsh for Keane (45 mins), A Murphy for Carolan (56 mins), E regan for McLoughlin (65 mins). Â Referee: J McQuillan