Mayo’s comeback forces Dubs replay on Saturday

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Mayo fans celebrate a late score at Croke Park. INPHO/CATHAL NOONAN[/caption]

By P.J. Cunningham

That’s the thing about Mayo, isn’t it? You just never know what to expect from them.

Just as we were about to bury them at a packed Croke Park on Sunday when Dublin raced into a 7-point lead with eight minutes to go, Mayo did a Lazarus by staging a great comeback, registering 1-15 to the Dubs’ 2-12, thus forcing a replay. That game will take place against the Leinster champions this Saturday back at headquarters (throw-in at midday New York time).

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While another match should bring both teams on in terms of preparation for whoever ultimately gets through to the final, Kerry already waiting in the wings, will have found this match a comfort in terms of what to expect.

Dublin appear to have gone back – certainly in midfield and attack while Mayo are tinkering so much with systems that it nearly cost them on Sunday as they persisted with seven defenders.

That system clearly backfired and it needed the wake up of Dublin taking control in the second half for the Mayo joint-managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly to revert to a more traditional format, thereby allowing their players to attack from the back with pace and skill.

Andy Moran may not have the legs to last 70 minutes anymore but he is still central to the Mayo cause and his dramatic injury-time equalizer capped a sensational comeback.

Handy Andy was the talisman as his point on introduction was the start of a revival which saw Mayo score 1-3 without reply before the veteran kept his cool to slot over the equalizer with normal time up. That score came immediately after Cillian O'Connor expertly dispatched a 69th minute penalty following a foul on Colm Boyle.

It was a penalty which got the Dublin team off the mark after Diarmuid Connolly scored on five minutes after Paul Flynn had been tripped as he was about to shoot. That was the high-point for Connolly who had a mixed performance before being sent-off after delivering a dig following a head-wrestling bout with Lee Keegan four minutes into added time at the end.

The Dubs had a bad day on the cards front with both midfielders Michael Darragh Macauley – who started the game - and Denis Bastick - who didn’t - black carded in the second-half, allowing Mayo to dominate that sector in the vital final minutes.

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A Dublin fan celebrates his side's second goal. INPHO/RYAN BYRNE[/caption]

Aidan O’Shea didn’t score but played with real strength and leadership and was a handful for the Dublin defense.

Keegan’s opening score of the match – a point – was the only score from play that Mayo recorded in the first moiety. O’Connor profited by slotting over placed balls from every angle and ended up with 1-9 to his credit, but none from play.

Mayo’s extra man in defense meant they were light in attacking numbers and were fortunate to be only a goal behind at the break - 1-7 to 0-7.

That period saw the best of Flynn's form this summer while Paddy Andrews with a brace and Ciaran Kilkenny with three points also were on top form for the first 35 minutes. However none of the three made any real impact thereafter and their fadeout will be a worry for Jim Gavin and his management team as they plot ahead for the replay.

Mayo started the second half the better and whittled the lead down to a point thanks to points from Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor from play to leave the scoreboard reading 1-7 to 0-9 in Dublin’s favour.

The introduction of Kevin McManamon changed the Dub's fortune as he caused the mayo defence all sorts of trouble and his 58th minute goal appeared to be the crucial score.

When the Brogan brothers, Bernard and sub Alan followed and Jack McCaffrey added points, it left Gavin’s team ahead and looking certain victors on a 2-12 to 0-11 scoreline.

But Mayo have happy knack of confounding everyone – with a reinvention of themselves as the sands of time rapidly ran against them. It leaves us to pose the question of course – which Mayo team will turn up this weekend – and for how long?

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A young Mayo fan can't bear to watch. INPHO/DONALL FARMER[/caption]

Managers relieved

Both managers were relieved to fight another day and were equally hopeful that Sunday’s game will improve and sharpen their players for this Saturday’s replay.

Dublin boss Jim Gavin said the month lay-off from their last game and the fact that the team hadn’t played a Division One teams since April meant the sell-out occasion at Croke Park on Sunday would help them to perform better in the next game.

However there is no doubt that Gavin will have to seriously reconsider how his team gave up a seven-point lead with only eight minutes to go. They seemed to lose their momentum, just as they did when Donegal showed them the exit door by scoring two killer goals in last year’s campaign.

Mayo's joint-manager Pat Holmes admitted that for long periods it looked like Mayo would be going home with their tails between their legs.

“There were a lot of highs and lows in that game. For a long time it looked like we had missed the boat but in fairness to the lads they kept plugging away, kept doing the right things and got the equalizer in the end.

"It looked like game over for anybody who doesn't know this group of players, but we knew that there was character in them and they would not drop the heads and that they would keep plugging right until the final whistle. They did that and got the rewards.”

The quick turn around for a replay was something he admitted that they hadn’t factored into their plans.

“Now we’re faced with a replay, and we’ll prepare as well as we possibly can for that.”

Man of the Match Cillian O’Connor praised the resilience among his colleagues. “We didn't play particularly well in the second half, but the boys were never going to give up and we hung in there right to the end.”

O'Connor’s 1-9 for Mayo all came from placed balls – and Gavin will obviously try to ensure that the foul count against his defenders is not so high in the replay.

Dublin: S Cluxton; R O'Carroll, P McMahon, J Cooper; J McCarthy, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey (0-1); B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, P Andrews (0-2), C Kilkenny (0-3); D Rock, D Connolly (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1f), B Brogan (0-2) Subs: M Fitzsimons for O'Carroll (blood), K McManamon (1-1) for Rock, J Small for Cooper, D Bastick for Macauley (black card), A Brogan (0-1) for Andrews, T Brady for Fenton, E Lowndes for Bastick (black card).

Mayo: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins (0-1); D Vaughan, L Keegan (0-1), C Boyle; T Parsons, S O'Shea; D Drake, J Doherty, D O'Connor (0-1); K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, C O'Connor (1-9, 0-8f, 1-0 pen, 0-01 45) Subs: P Durcan for Vaughan, A Moran (0-2) for Drake, A Freeman (0-1) for Doherty, B Moran for S O'Shea, M Sweeney for D O'Connor.

Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan).

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Dublin fans in disbelief as the lead slips away.NPHO/JAMES CROMBIE[/caption]

The digital and print editions of Wednesday’s Irish Echo will have P.J. Cunningham and Sean Creedon’s previews of Sunday’s All Ireland hurling final between Kilkenny and Galway.