Saturday’s game was everything we hoped and dreamed for until the most perfect rendition of Gaelic football for a 12 minute period in the second half ruined it all.
Excitement simmered all week as Dublin and Mayo prepared to lock horns for the first time since Jim Gavin’s side secured the three-in-a-row. So much has happened since then that it feels like a lifetime ago that Lee Keegan launched his GPS tracker at Dean Rock as he sent over the match-winning free in that 2017 All-Ireland final.
That’s because a lot has happened. For starters, Diarmuid Connolly hadn’t featured in the Championship since that game until his return against Tyrone just a week ago. Sandwiched in between, he spent a summer in Boston and had a second summer unceremoniously scrapped at the last minute which paved the way for a return to action.
Before then we had the ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ mess that galvanised the Kildare footballers to victory over Mayo in round three of the qualifiers marking an early-season exit that in hindsight, kind of killed the Championship more so than it made it (despite providing one of the moments of the year, no doubt).
Dublin would stroll to a fourth-in-a-row where a slow start in the final against Tyrone seemed to be the only time they were forced to break sweat or stride. This year would see the return of James Horan and a first national title for Mayo in 18 years while Dublin chase an unprecedented five-in-a-row.
However, despite the success, Mayo succumbed to defeat to Roscommon in the Connacht Championship and thus started a journey we had travelled with them once or twice before. A tricky qualifier campaign followed by a hammering against Kerry and a win over Donegal eventually sealed a date with Dublin to come full circle on what has been an interesting period for both sides since they last met in championship football.
In many ways, it felt oh so familiar than it did before.
Dublin hadn’t been tested since that Mayo game and had barely hit third gear in recent championship games so the narrative spun all week was that Mayo would be able to cause them problems because they were the only team that had done so in the past. Excitement simmered as the two teams prepared to do battle and it lived up to its justifiable hype for so many different reasons.
It genuinely looked as though Mayo had Dublin’s cage rattled. As half-time loomed with Mayo edging it by three they were the dominant force. Full-blooded, Mayo tore strips off the Dublin juggernaut as Jim Gavin’s side pressed forward only to be pushed back time and time again by James Horan’s gallant warriors. The Dublin manager noted afterwards that Mayo were possibly more ‘battle-harden’ ahead of the match and that wouldn’t have been far wrong based on the two teams first-half displays.
Mayo had performers all over the pitch Paddy Durcan was inspirational kicking two trademark points. The O’Shea’s were dominant around the middle, Cillian O’Connor kicked a beauty from play and James Carr looked lively. More importantly, Mayo had got their matchups spot on. Lee Keegan looked to have Con O’Callaghan subdued while Brian Fenton was denied a few times by Matthew Ruane et al. Jack McCaffrey was even turned over on occasion as Dublin struggled with the western intensity.
In truth, it was everything we had wished for. This is what was supposed to happen. Mayo were back in town and they were here to spoil the party… or start one depending on your persuasion.
Dublin trailed at the break and given the fact they’ve never beaten Mayo in a Sam Maguire Cup All-Ireland semi-final at the first time of asking (there’s one for you!) we all dared to believe that today was the day that it would finally go down to the wire involving Dublin once again.
All of a sudden, just like that, natural order was restored and Dublin led by ten. The game was over and yet, it didn’t diminish the occasion whatsoever despite the fact what we had all hoped and dreamed for lay on the floor in tatters because it was one of the most mesmeric, joyous and downright beautiful twelve minutes of football ever seen in the long history of the GAA.
Mayo looked comfortable in the opening stages of the second half and who knows? They may have kicked on another gear had Durcan’s 45-metre effort gone over on 36 minutes. As it transpired, Dublin’s leader Stephen Cluxton prevented the score before setting the wheels in motion for what would be Con O’Callaghan’s first of two goals seconds later.
Dublin worked the ball downfield before O’Callaghan finally took a yard of space back from Keegan and finished low into the corner with all the finesse of an international striker. From Cluxton’s save to O’Callaghan’s finish, it was a goal that will be replayed many times over when analysing this great team.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 10, 2019
Mayo looked shell shocked and couldn’t get the ball out of their own half as Dublin tagged on a couple more points. We then witnessed one of Croke Park’s great scores when Rob Hennelly was yet again forced long from the restart only to find Brian Fenton soaring through the sky through several Mayo bodies before claiming the ball and mounting yet another Dublin tidal wave that finished with a breathtaking score from Paul Mannion, who seems to be in Footballer of the Year type form.
Now six ahead, Dublin’s tails were up. They almost looked possessed such was the intensity with which they zipped around the field and flew into tackles and eventually they all but sealed victory when O’Callaghan beautifully dropped the shoulder and stepped inside a helpless Keegan before finishing to the exact same corner as before to really get the Dublin machine motoring.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 10, 2019
The 12-minutes of pure excellence drew to a close with Mannion hitting yet another beauty from play to move Dublin ten ahead and signal the end of Mayo’s challenge. You could do nothing but sit back revel in what was a surreal passage of play.
Mayo were more battle-hardened than Dublin and it told in the first half. They outfought a lacklustre Dublin who, as mentioned, haven’t been in a proper championship battle since that 2017 final.
However, that doesn’t mean they’ve regressed, the reason they haven’t been in one is that they’ve progressed. Progressed so far that they are far and away ahead of any of the chasing pack.
Questions were finally asked of Dublin and they answered them emphatically with 12 minutes of pure unadulterated joy!