Mayo finally break Dublin spell in pulsating All-Ireland semi-final

Score to draw game at full-time as good as a winner, in truth a stake through the heart

Mayo 0-17 Dublin 0-14 (after extra time)

A tale of contrasting momentum: Mayo, invigorated with new players and a rising sense of themselves that armour plated the team against adversity – of which they have had plenty, culminating in the loss of All-Star defender Oisín Mullin for Saturday's All-Ireland football semi-final – finally downed Dublin, six-time champions whose aura, fading all season, just disappeared into the Croke Park night.

It was almost banal, the level to which they were reduced – in essence doing the things all losing teams do, losing composure, making mistakes, taking the wrong option and descending into unrepentant indiscipline, some of which they may not have heard the last of.

In particular John Small's collision with Eoghan McLaughlin, which initially looked legitimate shoulder-to-shoulder but on further viewing, more reckless, just after the second water break left the latter unconscious. On Sunday he underwent surgery for a double jaw fracture. Play should have stopped but instead Dublin replacement Colm Basquel got a straight run in and, probably just as well for referee Conor Lane, blasted the ball wide when a goal might have finished the match.


In extra time Mayo won by 0-4 to 0-1 and Dublin, having ridden their luck in the twilight zone between yellow and black cards, had three players sin-binned. Basquel’s was a killer. As one of the livelier introductions, his absence for 10 minutes placed a huge burden on his flagging colleagues.

Later, he was followed by Tom Lahiff and James McCarthy, as Dublin finished with 13 on the field.

So it was that they bit the dust just 17 days short of a whole seven years and 45 matches since their last championship defeat, the unexpected derailing by Donegal in 2014.

Tasting defeat

Eight players, who lined out at the weekend, hadn't known championship defeat in their entire intercounty career – pre-eminently Brian Fenton, who has played all seven of those championships two footballer of the year awards and five All-Stars. Saturday brought him a new and unwelcome experience.

Mayo, being Mayo, didn’t grasp this opportunity in a straightforward manner. They reprised their desperately poor performance in the first half of the Connacht final, scoring even fewer points and taking the burden of a six-point, 0-4 to 0-10, deficit into the second half.

Their revised match-ups weren’t working terribly well. Ciarán Kilkenny was leading the Dublin attack productively despite Lee Keegan’s influence begging to grow ominously.

The familiar possession game stretched Mayo from wing to wing and created chances steadily and took them more or less every three minutes to build a rhythm of scoring Mayo couldn't emulate. Other vital signs were good. The worrying form of Brian Fenton straightened itself out into the recognisable influence and he was ably assisted by club-mate Brian Howard.

Not all was well, though, in that primary assassin Con O’Callaghan was still struggling – a mark he took in the first half, which he normally would have run forward into the available space instead was attempted but went wide.

The defence functioned well. David Byrne kept close to Aidan O'Shea, who had a couple of wides, including from a well-taken mark in front of the posts, and would eventually be replaced in the second half. Michael Fitzsimons and Eoin Murchán were sharp, the former with a couple of quality dispossessions.

Mayo’s comeback after half-time was admirable but it wasn’t pressurised. Dublin missed chance after chance. James McCarthy ran in at the start of the half and shot into the side netting when a point may have been the better option. O’Callaghan fisted a chance off the post.

Encouraged, Mayo began to run hard at Dublin. Enda Hession brought pace and energy and old-timers like Keegan and Patrick Durcan drove the effort. Ryan O'Donoghue started the resistance, Rob Hennelly hit a free and Keegan, now free from Kilkenny – who was being capably dealt with by Pádraig O'Hora – a third. Three back in the third quarter but Dublin had failed to score at all.

Their inability to create openings and take scores was reminiscent of the Leinster semi-final against Meath – indeed a whole provincial campaign in which their scoring returns declined by 0-8 a match compared to the two previous seasons. Translated on to the All-Ireland stage, it meant just 0-4 was scored in nearly an hour’s football, second half and extra-time.

Emblematic moment

Had they chipped away points from the Mayo comeback it might have complicated the process. Even so, at 0-12 to 0-7 well over 60 minutes in, they should have closed the deal.

An emblematic moment saw Diarmuid O’Connor rescue a Hennelly wide by hacking it off the end line back towards Kevin McLoughlin who scored. It felt like the sort of intervention that could be deemed a turning point and sure enough it triggered a scoreboard run in which Mayo outscored the champions 0-6 to 0-1 in the time remaining.

Their forwards were certainly emboldened. O'Donoghue and Tommy Carroll began to run at the defence with the ball and without it, harass the backs.

The perils of the new fad for fly goalies were on show when Evan Comerford was arrested in possession a long way from home and coughed up a free. Worst of all, a last-ditch attempt to run down the clock was hunted down – the pace and intelligence of Eoin Murchán, who had gone off injured, sorely missed in this situation – so that it became a frantic shovelling of ball in decreasing amounts of space, ending up in the small square with David Byrne desperately trying to outrun the converging forwards and ending up over the line for a 45.

More drama. Hennelly initially botched the kick but after the referee spotted that there were 16 players on the Mayo side – Stephen Coen hadn't yet left after substitution – the goalkeeper nervelessly made sure at the second attempt and the match was saved and heading for extra-time.

In truth it was as good as a winner, a stake through the heart.

MAYO: 1. R Hennelly (0-3, two frees, 45); 5. P Durcan, 2. P O'Hora, 6. S Coen; 4. M Plunkett, 3. L Keegan (0-1), 7. E McLaughlin; 8. M Ruane (0-1), 9. C Loftus (0-1); 12. D McHale, 11. K McLoughlin (0-1), 12. D O'Connor; 13. T Conroy (0-3), 11. A O'Shea (capt), 15. R O'Donoghue (0-5, two frees).
Subs: 19. E Hession for McHale (27 mins), 23.B Walsh for Plunkett (48 mins), 26. J Carr for O'Shea (48 mins), 24. J Flynn (0-1) for McLaughlin (58 mins), 21. C O'Shea for Loftus (64 mins), 25. D Coen (0-1) for S Coen (78 mins), 9. Loftus for McLoughlin (80+1 mins), 18. B Harrison for O'Connor (87 mins), 14. A O'Shea for D Coen (92 mins).

DUBLIN: 1. E Comerford; 24. E Murchan, 3. D Byrne, 2. M Fitzsimons; 5. J McCarthy, 4. J Cooper (capt), 6. J Small; 8. B Fenton, 9. B Howard; 10. P Small (0-2), 11. C Kilkenny (0-3, one mark), 12. N Scully; 13. D Rock (0-7, five frees), 14. C O'Callaghan (0-1), 15. C Costello.
Subs: 17. C Basquel for Costello (49 mins), 21. T Lahiff for Cooper (51 mins), 19. S Bugler (0-1) for Scully (62 mins), 7. S McMahon for Murchan (66), 23. P McMahon for S McMahon (70+6 mins) 22. R McDaid for J Small (80 mins), 20. A Byrne for Howard (82 mins), 15. C Costello for P Small (85 mins).

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times