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Dublin restored the natural order of the Gaelic footballing landscape last night with a comprehensive eight-point hammering of Mayo in Croke Park.
A lot of hype surrounded the game due to Mayo’s hot run of form and Dublin’s perceived lack thereof.
However, this game never lived up to the hype as Dublin swatted aside the challenge of Mayo with relative ease. The All-Ireland champions never looked in danger and the end result was a foregone conclusion by half-time.
The only positive that Mayo fans can take away from last night’s game was the performance of goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly, who made a string of top-class saves (six in total) and kicked two monster scores for Mayo. We haven’t seen much of Hennelly since the disaster that was the 2016 All-Ireland final when he gave away a penalty and received a black card. However, the Breaffy shot-stopper has started each of Mayo’s league games so far and it is clear that James Horan has huge faith in him.
At the opposite end of the field, Dublin’s own number one, Evan Comerford, put on his best performance in a Dublin senior shirt to date with an assured display between the sticks. The Ballymun Kickhams man was brilliant from restarts and comfortable under the high ball, his distribution was on point and to top it all off he saved a penalty at a crucial stage of the game.
Comerford has played every league game so far, and while Jim Gavin kept the door open on Stephen Cluxton returning to the fold before the end of the league, it is difficult to see Comerford being dropped this campaign.
Dublin’s other star performer on the night was Cormac Costello who once again put Jim Gavin on watch with an electric performance, running Mayo captain, Keith Higgins, ragged on a 150th appearance to forget for the Ballyhaunis defender.
Costello kicked 1-2 from play alongside two free-kicks and there could easily have been two more goals had it not been for the brilliance of Hennelly.
Both Comerford and Costello have been knocking around the fringes of the Dublin team for quite some time now, but neither has been able to make the transition from sub to starter. If they can continue to replicate these types of performances for the remainder of this league campaign, Jim Gavin will be left with a difficult decision come Championship.
In the fifth instalment of our deep-dive series in association with Allianz Ireland, we break down two vital plays from both players that killed this game as a contest before half-time.
Dublin were the better side from the get-go, however, they failed to convert on a few occasions. On the 17th minute, Hennelly kicked an inspirational score from well beyond the 45-metre line to bring Mayo level at two points apiece.
At this stage, you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was game on, in truth though, all Hennelly’s monster point did was give Dublin the kick up the backside they needed as a minute later Costello scored this beauty.
Cormac Costello fires home to put Dublin into a three point lead.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) February 23, 2019
The finish was impeccable, but there was more to it than that. Costello had to work extremely hard to score. On the night, he started at centre-forward but regularly switched with Ciaran Kilkenny in the full-forward line.
He displays great movement and spatial awareness in creating the space to get away from Keith Higgins and collect the ball in the corner.
When he receives the ball he still has a mountain of work to do. Let’s not forget he’s faced up against one of the greatest corner-backs the game has ever seen in Higgins.
The Ballyhaunis defender makes life difficult, he has his hands on Costello who is trying desperately to throw him off and create an opening.
Costello displays great determination in these close quarters. He doesn’t give up, he jinks right then left, right again, then left again, until Higgins loses his footing. It is opening that he’s been working on.
It is at this point also that Costello loses possession of the ball, but executes a fantastic bit of skill to effortlessly chip the ball back into his arms and bear down on goal.
Now, there is only going to be one outcome. Costello is free and clear with the goal at his mercy and a player of his calibre rarely misses from here.
Over the next 15 minutes, Dublin tagged on four more points to stretch their lead to seven. The game was moving beyond Mayo and there was nothing to suggest that a second-half comeback was on the horizon.
That was until Andy Moran put Jason Doherty through on goal in added time before he was pulled down by Jonny Cooper. The penalty was awarded and Mayo had a chance to cut the deficit to four points before the break. A goal at this stage would have given them a glimmer of hope, however, Evan Comerford saved well.
33: Penalty saved!
Evan Comerford with the save to deny Jason Doherty.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) February 23, 2019
The important thing to note here is that Comerford steals a couple of yards during Doherty’s run-up.
Some may argue that this is against the rules and shouldn’t be highlighted, however, it’s a dark art of goalkeeping and one of the many dark arts of Gaelic football. Defenders are forever pulling and dragging forwards, the same way that forwards often pull a defenders arm inside their chests to make it seem as though they are being fouled. They are the dark arts of the game and something that everybody utilises to their advantage.
This next image shows just how many yards Comerford has stolen by the time Doherty takes the kick.
From here on out it’s all about the Ballymun man’s reactions. You can tell from the above image that he has picked the correct side, he’s going down to his right.
By no means is this a bad penalty from Doherty by the way, it’s low, it’s hard, and it’s in the corner. It is a fantastic save from a young man who really stepped out of a legend’s shadow last night.
In truth, the penalty miss marked the end of Mayo’s challenge. Dublin assumed total control in the second half and cruised to victory.
The improved form of Costello who is now looking like a genuine starting XV player will come as a great boost to Dublin fans who for so long touted the Whitehall Colmcille’s man as someone capable of breaking into the starting line-up.
Whether Comerford can hold onto the number one jersey come Championship time remains to be seen. Stephen Cluxton is still regarded as the best goalkeeper in Ireland and is the leader of this all-conquering Dublin juggernaut. However, Jim Gavin will be pleased to see that the youngster is improving game on game and dealing with the pressure of being in the spotlight.
It is exactly what was needed. Cluxton can’t go on forever and when he does decide he’s had enough, Comerford seems like the perfect replacement.