By Andrew Leahy
After a scintillating, yet at times sloppy affair at GAA headquarters two weeks ago, fans were left looking forward to a mouth-watering replay between Dublin and Mayo. The Dubs were aiming to be the first team since Kerry in 2007 to win back-to-back all Ireland trophies, whilst the Westerners were bidding for their first victory in the decider since 1951.
Both managers were forced to reshuffle their decks from the stale-mate game two weeks previous, with Jim Gavin dropping star man Bernard Brogan, along with midfielder Michael-Darragh McCauley and defender David Byrne. In their places were Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews and Michael Fitzsimons. Stephen Rochford made one solitary change which baffled many pundits in the lead up to throw-in, the omission of goalkeeper David Clarke seemed strange, and Rob Hennelly came into the fray.
When the ball was thrown in it was the reigning champions who were quickest out of the blocks, they immediately looked slicker and more confident than they had done in the drawn game, where a lot of criticism was aimed towards Dublin’s forwards. They sprinted into a 4-point lead after just 8 minutes, with three of these coming from Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon tagging on an extra score. Mayo looked stunned in the opening encounters and they would need to respond quickly as it is almost always detrimental letting Dublin get a run on you. However, Mayo responded perfectly, wing-back Patrick Durcan slotted over their first score off his left boot, and this was followed up by 3 more points, two of which came from frees put over from captain Cillian O’ Connor, with Andy Moran snatching the equaliser. Mayo had kicked into life.
By the 18th minute Dublin had pulled two points clear, again coming from the boot of on-form free taker Dean Rock. Mayo had mounted some promising looking attacks but these were all thwarted by a disciplined Dublin defence, which has been so solid all through the 2016 campaign.
However, the Dubs defence was breached in the eighteenth minute, when Aidan O’ Shea got out in front of his man on the 45’ and twisted his way past two Dublin defenders. He made a bee-line towards Cluxton’s net, half back Lee Keegan was on his shoulder, he popped the ball to Keegan who rifled the ball low past Stephen Cluxton leaving Mayo ahead by a point 1-4 to 0-6. Over the next twelve minutes, the sides were level again twice, with Dublin’s full back Johnny Cooper receiving a black card. But Dublin went two points clear with another score from Dean Rock and a sublime point from marquee forward Diarmuid Connolly. The St. Vincent’s man had been quiet
up until that moment, and on the stroke of half-time, referee Maurice Deegan deemed Lee Keegan to have deliberately pulled down Connolly outside the 14’, and he too received a black card. This was seen as a hammer blow for Mayo, as Keegan had been influential in the game so far, and had done an excellent
job keeping tabs on Connolly. Dublin led at the break on a score-line of 0-10 to 1-6.
Mayo had levelled the game yet again after Cillian O’Connor pointed another free, and they went in front for the second time in the game thanks to a close range pint from Cillian’s younger brother Diarmuid. This was short-lived however, as Dean Rock put over his eighth score of the day with a fabulous free kick.
The defining moment of the game came in the 40th minute when a routine ball was kicked in in front of Mayo goalkeeper Robbie Hennelly. However, he fumbled the ball right onto the foot of Paddy Andrews, and he was forced to pull the Dublin forward down or else give away a certain goal. Hennelly was also awarded a black card and David Clarke came on in his place. It was up to Diarmuid Connolly to take the penalty kick and he made no mistake blasting it into the bottom left corner, out of the reach of Clarke, putting Dublin 1-11 to 1-8 ahead.
This ended up being a gap which the men from the West just couldn’t bridge. The deficit was cut down to only 2 points on four separate occasions. Dublin never looked like losing control of the game in the last 15 minutes, and this was largely due to their bench. Much was made of the strength and depth of the Dublin squad and this certainly played a part in the closing stages of the game. Dublin called on the likes of Michael Darragh McCauley and Bernard Brogan. McCauley is a power-house in the engine room and added exuberance when tired legs started to become a factor. Brogan got on the scoresheet putting the Dubs two ahead in the remaining 13 minutes, and substitute Cormac Costello put them 3 clear with two snappy points.
Mayo never gave up, and brought the deficit to the minimum twice with free kicks from O’Connor but they could never get the equaliser they so desperately craved. A third score from super-sub Costello left the boys in blue two up and one final score from O’Connor was the last score of the game. He missed an extremely difficult kick to draw the game but no one would hold it against him.
And so Dublin retained the Sam Maguire cup for the second year in a row on a score line of 1-15 to 1-14. It can’t be denied that Dublin were the dominant force again in this year’s championship and it’s hard to see who will be able to beat them next year. Although the Dubs are still celebrating at the moment, I’m sure the thoughts of a treble are in the back of their mind.