All-Ireland Senior Football Final
DUBLIN 1-17 MAYO 1-16
By John Harrington at Croke Park
Dean Rock held his nerve to nail an injury-time free that made Dublin three-in-a-row All-Ireland Football Champions in Croke Park this afternoon.
It was a heart-breaking way for Mayo to lose yet another All-Ireland Final, and once again they leave headquarters with regrets and a sense of what might have been.
They dominated long tracts of this match and did well to limit a Dublin attack that had been irresistible all year, but in the final reckoning they just weren’t clinical enough.
Cillian O’Connor had a chance to edge them ahead on the stroke of full-time but his shot came back off the upright.
That pretty summed up Mayo’s day – close but no cigar.
As for Dublin, they deserve a lot of credit for finding a way to win to win this game despite struggling to impose their authority for most of it.
In a contest of fine margins, their greater strength in depth was crucial. Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon came off the bench to score a point each, whereas no Mayo sub managed a score and they lacked a focal point in attack in the final crucial minutes after Andy Moran was taken off.
It was hugely absorbing contest, and there was intrigue before the ball was even throw-in as the defenders on both sides picked up their men.
Lee Keegan immediately made a bee-line for Ciaran Kilkenny, and that match-up would become a really important plot-line as the game developed.
Kilkenny had knitted the Dublin attack together all year with his ability to get on the ball and take the right option, but with Keegan sticking to him like glue the playmaker would soon begin to cut a frustrated figure.
The other key match-up in the Mayo defence saw Colm Boyle take up Con O’Callaghan, and initially at least that duel wasn’t as much of a Mayo success story.
It was O’Callaghan who gave the reigning champions the perfect start when he scampered around Boyle and the rest of the Dublin defence before slotting a really deft finish past David Clarke with the outside of his right boot.
The worst possible start to the game for Mayo, but it didn’t knock a beat out of them.
They settled into an impressive rhythm as their defence began locking down the Dublin attack, their midfield exerted a growing dominance, and their key men in attack began getting on the ball.
Dublin had detailed Michael Fitzsimons to mark the in-form Andy Moran, but as the half progressed he found the Ballaghaderreen man increasingly tricky to pin down.
It was Moran who opened the scoring for Mayo, and when Donal Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin followed up with two more to level it you knew that Mayo were right in the fight.
By this time we’d seen the unusual sight of Dean Rock missing a free and ’45 in quick succession, more evidence that the Dubs were ever so slightly rattled.
They had also suffered a significant set-back when Jack McCaffrey was forced off with what looked like a bad knee injury, so a lot of things were suddenly going against Dublin.
Eoghan O’Gara, a late addition to the team in place of Niall Scully, gave his team a shot in the arm with a close-range point, but it was Mayo who continued to dominate.
Moran kicked his second, and with Mayo pushing up on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out the Dublin goalkeeper went long where it was gobbled by the Mayo midfield.
From there the Connacht side raced straight down the field and scored their sixth point of the day through Jason Doherty.
Coming as it did from a Cluxton kick-out, it felt like a real statement score.
John Small was one of the few Dublin players dominating his patch of the pitch, and when he raced forward to kick a point and Rock landed a free, we had a level game again.
Mayo came on strong again then as the impressive Doherty kicked his second and then Colm Boyle roared forward and kicked a beauty with the outside of his boot.
It was Dublin who had the last say of the half though, Rock landing another free, so even though they had been largely out-played, they trailed by just a point at the break, 0-9 to 1-5.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin clearly recognised though his team were struggling though, and so Connolly and McManamon were called in for the start of the second-half.
There was more intent about Dublin at the start of the second half, less gaps were appearing between their defensive lines and in attack they were posing more of a threat.
Paul Mannion came to life to kick the first point of the half, and, after Cillian O’Connor replied with a free, Dublin struck the front thanks to scores from Rock and McManamon.
Then came a massive opportunity for Mayo. Andy Moran sent Jason Doherty clear, but Stephen Cluxton saved his shot brilliantly.
The ball rebounded to Doherty, but a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Philly McMahon prevented him from finishing it to the net.
It was end to end stuff now and Dublin very nearly scored a goal of their own a minute later when Mannion raced through but saw his shot cannon off the legs of Mayo goalie David Clarke.
Mannion pointed a few seconds later after the ball was recycled back to him, and then came a really pivotal moment in the game when both Dublin's John Small and Mayo's Donal Vaughan were red-carded.
Small got his marching orders for a crunching high tackle on Colm Boyle that earned him a second yellow, while Vaughan saw red for deciding to exact retribution on Small.
It was a serious error of judgement by the Mayo defender. Had he kept his cool then Mayo would have had a man advantage and very kickable free. Instead both teams were reduced to 14 men and the ball was thrown in.
There was more space to be found now and it seemed to suit Dublin more, particularly midfielders James McCarthy and Brian Fenton who both scored fine points after charging through the Mayo defence from deep positions.
Mayo badly needed a moment of inspiration to kick-start their challenge again, and Lee Keegan provided it.
He raced onto perfectly timed pop-pass from Moran and slammed the ball to the roof of the net to a deafening roar from the vocal Mayo crowd.
The last 15 minutes of normal time was a real arm-wrestle. First Mayo seemed to be getting on top when O’Connor hit two points in quick succession, but then three points in a row from Dublin saw them hit the front again, 1-16 to 1-15.
Cillian O’Connor drew Mayo level with a brilliant point from play, but then saw that late free from a tight angle come off the woodwork.
Mayo were a team running on vapours in extra-time. Their attack lost its shape and threat after Andy Moran and Jason Doherty were substituted, and Dublin looked more likely to get a winner in the six allotted minutes of injury-time.
It came in the last of those six minutes when Diarmuid Connolly was fouled around 40 yards from goal, and Dean Rock showed great composure to flight his kick between the posts.
David Clarke’s kick-out went straight into touch, and for the final frantic minute of the match Dublin held their nerve by successfully playing keep-ball until the final whistle finally blew.
**Scorers for Dublin: **Dean Rock 0-7 (3f), Con O’Callaghan 1-0, Paul Mannion 0-3, James McCarthy 0-2, Diarmuid Connolly 0-1, Kevin McManamon 0-1, John Small 0-1, Brian Fenton 0-1, Eoghan O’Gara 0-1.
Scorers for Mayo: Cillian O’Connor 0-7 (4f), Lee Keegan 1-0, Andy Moran 0-3, Jason Doherty 0-2, Kevin McLoughlin 0-2, Donal Vaughan 0-1, Colm Boyle 0-1.
DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Philly McMahon, Cian O’Sullivan, Michael Fitzsimons; Jonny Cooper, John Small, Jack McCaffrey; Brian Fenton, James McCarthy; Ciaran Kilkenny, Con O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion; Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O’Gara, Dean Rock. Subs: Paul Flynn for Jack McCaffrey (9), Kevin McManamon for Paddy Andrews, Diarmuid Connolly for Eoghan O’Gara (both half-time), Bernard Brogan for Paul Flynn (65), Niall Scully for Con O’Callaghan (67), Cormac Costello for Paul Mannion (74)
MAYO: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan, Chris Barrett; Paddy Durcan, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle; Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan; Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor, Andy Moran. Subs: Diarmuid O’Connor for Seamus O’Shea (50), Stephen Coen for Colm Boyle (55), Conor Loftus for Andy Moran (63), David Drake for Jason Doherty (70), Danny Kirby for Kevin McLoughlin (74), Ger Cafferkey for Keith Higgins (75)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)