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All-Ireland SFC Final - O'Connor saves Mayo



All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final

MAYO 0-15 DUBLIN 2-9

By John Harrington at Croke Park.

The match ended in a draw, but it was a triumph for the sheer will of Mayo football.

Considering their history of All-Ireland Final defeats and hard luck stories, you’d hardly have blamed them if they packed up and went home after the concession of two truly unfortunate first-half own goals.

Because of those calamities, they trailed by five points at half-time despite dominating long tracts of the first 35 minutes.

But they simply refused to accept their fate would once again be that of the gallant loser and they showed tremendous character to fight back in the second-half and claim a thoroughly deserved draw thanks to an inspirational last-gasp kick from Cillian O’Connor.

The big question before the match was just how would Mayo play their hand, and as the players gravitated to their positions it soon became clear they were going for broke.

Aidan O’Shea was pushed into full-forward on Philly McMahon, and their two most attack-minded defenders, Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins, were manning the two central defensive positions.

It was no surprise to see Keegan at centre-back because he was always likely to man-mark Diarmuid Connolly, but Higgins isn’t someone who would fit the typical profile of a full-back.

He proved though that the best players can pretty much play anywhere, and was one of the games’ biggest personalities throughout.

Right from the start of the match, there was a lot of positivity about the Mayo play and they won a series of small exchanges that told you they were up for this and in a very focused frame of mind.

They scored the first point of the match through Tom Parsons, then rose another big cheer from their supporters when they pushed up on a Stephen Cluxton restart and forced him to kick to touch after four minutes.

Brendan Harrison won the first ball that came down between him and Bernard Brogan, Aidan O’Shea won the first won the first two that came down on top of him and McMahon, and then Cillian O’Connor put Mayo two ahead when he converted a free.

So far so good for Mayo, but that’s when their luck turned took a horrible turn for the first, but not last time in the match.

Kevin McLoughlin

Kevin McLoughlin

You always felt that if Dublin could win a kick-out cleanly and break the first line of Mayo tacklers there would be a lot of space in the Mayo half for them to exploit, and that’s what happened with nine minutes on the clock.

They swept into the thinly populated Mayo half and the charging Brian Fenton was put straight through on goal.

His shot was saved by David Clarke and Bernard Brogan swiped a first-time kick on the rebound that would have been deflected wide had it then not cannoned off the legs of Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin and into the net for an own goal.

It’s bad luck to concede one own goal in a match, but when Mayo then conceded the second you really started to believe there could be something in this talk of the county being afflicted by a curse.

A moment of brilliance from Diarmuid Connolly played a part in the second goal as he picked out Dean Rock with sumptuously struck free-kick that would have put the Dublin forward through on goal had he caught it cleanly.

He didn’t, he dropped it, but Colm Boyle was in such a rush back to cover that he ran into the ball at pace and drove it into the net past David Clarke to what must have been the sheer horror of every Mayo person in the stadium.

It really was the most wretched lucky imaginable, and though there was still 48 minutes plus injury-time to play, another sad epitaph for Mayo football seemed written in the stars.

Even when it looked like a break had finally gone their way when James McCarthy was black-carded, that decision seemed to do them more harm than good, initially at least. 

Ciarán Kilkenny went to wing-back and Paddy Andrews came on as a sub and brought some much needed presence to a Dublin attack that was making no head-way whatsoever until his introduction.

He scored their first point from play after 22 minutes to push them 2-2 to 0-4 ahead and his and their second came immediately after Jason Doherty gave Mayo some much needed impetus on the score-board with fine point from long-range.

A Dean Rock free wrapped up the scoring before the break, so Dublin went to the dressing-rooms leading by 2-4 to 0-5 after what could only be described as a surreal half of football.

Mayo fans must have been shaking their heads in disbelief. Their team had held the feared Dublin attack to just two points from play, and yet they still trailed by five at the break.

This Mayo team has come up just short in recent years of winning the ultimate prize for a variety of reasons, but they’ve never lacked for sheer character and bloody-minded determination and reminded us of that again in the ten minutes after half-time when they scored five points in a row to draw level.

The half-time switch that brought Aidan O’Shea out to the half-forward line with Cillian O’Connor moving in the opposite direction to form a two-pronged attack with Andy Moran transformed Mayo.

O’Shea had been a frustrated figure for much of the first half in the inside-forward line, but now he was able to exert a greater influence on the contest and O’Connor looked a lot more comfortable too closer to goal.

Andy Moran came into the game a lot more as well, and his point in the first minute of the second-half gave Mayo the injection of momentum they badly needed.

Paul Durcan charged forward for their second point, and then three for O’Connor, two of them frees, had Mayo level by the 46th minute.

The effort required to get them back level visibly drained them though, O’Shea in particular looked out on his feet after series of up and down lung-busting runs, and had to go back into the full-forward line for a few minutes to catch his breath.

While Mayo’s energy levels dipped, Dublin took advantage, and a point from their best player on the day, Brian Fenton, and another from Dean Rock had them 2-6 to 0-10 ahead.

The ferocious physicality of the match – some serious hits went in from both sides – was taking its toll now, and the contest was becoming more of a slug-fest than a sharp exchange of blows.

Mayo kept grinding and summoned the energy to draw level again thanks to points from their two old stagers, Andy Moran and Alan Dillon.

Moran probably should have scored a goal from his chance, and if he had it could have been a game-changer.

Dublin have a happy habit of coming strong in the final few minutes of matches thanks to their supreme physical conditioning and the impact of their bench, and it looked like they kicked for home when they reeled off three quick-fire points to move 2-9 to 0-12 ahead by the 68th minute.

Connolly’s point raised one of the loudest cheers of the day form Hill 16 whose patrons clearly felt it was the final nail in the Mayo coffin, but the men from the West weren’t done yet.

A Cillian O’Connor free kept them in the hunt, and when it was announced there would be seven minutes of injury-time they had a reason to believe again.

Aidan O'Shea

Aidan O'Shea

That stalwart Donal Vaughan charged forward for a brilliant score to bring them within one six minutes of normal time left, but they made their supporters sweat right to the finish before they finally got the equaliser in the last minute of extra-time.

It was a brilliant score too. The ball was worked patiently downfield and when it finally reached Cillian O’Connor the Mayo captain showed great leadership to engineer the space and then take on the responsibility from shooting under pressure from 40 yards out.

As soon as it left his boot the Mayo fans in the Canal End rose to acclaim it as it sailed straight and true between the uprights.

A draw was the least Mayo deserved, but ultimately it doesn’t bring them any closer to winning the All-Ireland Final these players and the county as a whole so badly crave.

Andy Moran promised after the match that Mayo will be ready for the replay, but you can be sure that so will Dublin.

The reigning All-Ireland Champions have plenty of room for improvement, they will have learned a lot from what Mayo threw at them today, and will probably be favourites once more when the teams do battle again on Saturday, October 1.

That won’t worry Mayo. They’ll bring the fight like they always do.

Scorers for Dublin: Mayo Own Goal 2-0, Dean Rock 0-4 (3f), Paddy Andrews 0-2, John Small 0-1, Brian Fenton 0-1, Diarmuid Connolly 0-1.

**Scorers for Mayo: **Cillian O’Connor 0-7 (5f), Andy Moran 0-2, Donal Vaughan 0-2, Jason Doherty 0-1, Alan Dillon 0-1, Patrick Durcan 0-1, Tom Parsons 0-1. 

DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Philip McMahon, Jonny Cooper, David Byrne; James McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan, John Small; Brian Fenton, Michael Darragh MacAuley; Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Ciarán Kilkenny; Dean Rock, Kevin McManamon, Bernard Brogan. Subs: Paddy Andrews for James McCarthy (black card), 24; Paul Mannion for Kevin McManamon, 46; Michael Fitzsimons for Michael Darragh MacAuley, 52; Eoghan O’Gara for Bernard Brogan, 62; Darren Daly for David Byrne, 67; Denis Bastick for Paul Flynn, 74 

MAYO: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Patrick Durcan; Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan; Séamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor, Diarmuid O’Connor; Jason Doherty, Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran. Subs: Alan Dillon for Seamus O’Shea, 55; Chris Barrett for Colm Boyle, 59; Barry Moran for Alan Dillon, 66; Stephen Coen for Diarmuid O’Connor, 67; Evan Regan for Andy Moran, 71; Conor Loftus for Evan Regan, 78.

**Referee: **Conor Lane (Cork)