Michael Corry reporting live from Croke Park.
There was a colosseum like atmosphere in Croke Park this afternoon as Dublin and Mayo renewed their rivalry in front of almost 80,000 spectators in the first of this weekend’s All-Ireland SFC semi-finals.
The hairs stood on the back of the neck minutes prior to throw-in as shouts of ‘Mayo, Mayo, Mayo’ rang out from the Hogan Stand while the Hill was its usual sea of navy and blue chanting ‘Come on you Boys in Blue’. This one was sure to be a cracker.
The drama started before throw-in with the news that Mayo captain Diarmuid O’Connor had been included in the starting fifteen for the first time since their round two qualifier win over Down with Matthew Ruane also coming in as a late replacement, seemingly to pick up Brian Fenton. As expected, Patrick Durcan shadowed Jack McCaffrey while Lee Keegan was deployed at full-back to watch Con O’Callaghan.
When the action got underway it was the westerners who started the brighter of the two sides with Cillian O’Connor nailing the first score, with a little help from hawkeye, followed by a majestic kick between the posts from Séamus O’Shea.
O’Callaghan had a goal chance but the Mayo defence stood strong before forcing him into a weak shot which was easily saved by Rob Hennelly. It was soon 0-2 to 0-2 following back-to-back frees from Dean Rock.
James Carr, among others, shone throughout the first half for Mayo, he kicked a beautiful score to edge them a point in front before beautifully dispossessing James McCarthy later in the half as Dublin struggled to break through Mayo’s defensive screen. Dublin had yet another half-chance at goal but Paul Mannion fired over before he was gifted a second moments later following a poor restart from Hennelly.
Mayo went straight down the field where Cillian O’Connor struck a sweet score from play to leave the sides level at 0-4 apiece after a frenetic opening 15 minutes. Dublin would manage just one more score through Brian Howard who struck with the last kick of the half.
In that time, Mayo upped it a gear and dragged Dublin into a heated battle, something rarely seen over the past two seasons. Patrick Durcan was sensational kicking 0-2 from play either side of a Cillian O’Connor free while Colm Boyle sauntered forward to fire over the black spot. Dublin seemed to struggle throughout the opening half while Mayo had star performances all over the field.
Dublin pressed and pressed but Mayo refused to wilt and deservedly led by 0-8 to 0-6 at the break.
Whatever Jim Gavin or one of his team said at half-time it clearly worked as the All-Ireland champions came out of the blocks firing. Rock scored from another dead ball before Con O’Callaghan finally shook off the Lee Keegan shaped shackles to fire low and into the corner to put Dublin ahead for the first time since the 15th minute.
From two down at half-time to four up five minutes into the second half, the Dubs had clearly found their swagger with two excellently taken points through Niall Scully and Paul Mannion stretching the lead further and just like that, the tied had turned. Lee Keegan barely put a foot wrong in the first half but he was pulled up for a foul on O’Callaghan which gave Rock the chance to extend Dublin’s lead to five.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 10, 2019
The Dublin tidal wave continued and their dominance was summed up by one of the finest catches ever seen on this hallowed turf when Brian Fenton, who had been well marshalled throughout, rose above three Mayo players to pluck a Rob Hennelley kick out from the sky before Mannion was teed up to kick yet another beauty and leave Dublin six ahead after 45 minutes.
It went from bad to worse for Mayo when O’Callaghan dropped the shoulder and rounded Keegan before placing the ball into the same bottom corner for his second goal of the day. Not to be outdone, Paul Mannion fired over a peach of a point moments later and from two down at half-time, Dublin led by 10 and the game was all but gone for Mayo as Dublin had now hit 2-6 to Mayo’s zero since the restart.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 10, 2019
Mayo kicked wide after wide and looked a shell of the team that dominated the first half but they got their break when Lee Keegan marched forward to smartly chip the ball past Cluxton and into the goal to leave seven between the sides heading down the home stretch. However, it was not to be their day as Dublin continued to choke the life out of the Connacht side.
James Horan’s sides hugely memorable summer seemed all but finished when Brian Fenton pounced for Dublin’s third goal of the half to leave 11 points between the sides with just ten minutes remaining. Fenton could have had another but for a good save by Hennelley but the game was all but finished by then. Mayo ended up finishing the game with 14 players when Cillian O’Connor was given a second yellow card.
For Dublin, it’s yet another All-Ireland final where either Kerry or Tyrone await them. The drive-for-five is well and surely, still alive!
Stephen Cluxton (c); David Byrne, Jonny Cooper, Michael Fitzsimons; Jack McCaffrey, James McCarthy, John Small; Brian Fenton, Michael Darragh MacAuley; Niall Scully, Con O’Callaghan, Brian Howard; Paul Mannion, Dean Rock, Ciarán Kilkenny.
Cian O’Sullivan for Michael Darragh MacAuley, Eoin Murchan for John Small, Cormac Costello for Paul Mannion, Philip McMahon for Jonny Cooper, Diarmuid Connolly for Niall Scully, Paddy Andrews for Con O’Callaghan.
Con O’Callaghan 2-0, Brian Fenton 1-1, Dean Rock 0-6, Paul Mannion 0-5, Niall Scully 0-1, Brian Howard 0-1.
Rob Hennelly; Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Stephen Coen; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Patrick Durcan; Aidan O’Shea, Séamus O’Shea; Fionn McDonagh, Donal Vaughan, Matthew Ruane; Cillian O’Connor, Diarmuid O’Connor (c), James Carr.-
Keith Higgins for Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin for Fionn McDonagh, Andy Moran for James Carr, Eoin O’Donoghue for Colm Boyle, Tom Parsons for Séamus O’Shea, Fergal Bolan for Diarmuid O’Connor.
Lee Keegan 1-0, Cillian O’Connor 0-3, Patrick Durcan 0-2, Séamus O’Shea 0-1, James Carr 0-1, Stephen Coen 0-1, Colm Boyle 0-1, Fergal Boland 0-1.