Dubs shocked by Mayo

27 August 2006
Mayo produced the performance of the year to beat Dublin by 1-16 to 2-12 in an extraordinary All-Ireland SFC semi-final in front of 82,000 spectators in the seething cauldron of Croke Park.

In a pulsating match destined to become part of GAA folklore, the underdogs displayed insatiable courage and conviction to withstand a fierce Dublin onslaught at the start of the second half and stage one of the most remarkable revivals ever witnessed at Headquarters.

Ciaran McDonald’s 67th-minute point was a fitting winner. The deciding score had quality and class written all over it, in keeping with the overall face of this magnificent contest.

For a county whose character has been questioned on so many occasions in the past, Mayo exorcised all their demons with a scintillating performance in the best game of the year and arguable one of the finest gaelic football matches of all time.

The winners led by a point at the interval but Dublin’s blitz at the start of the second half gave the Sky Blues a seven-point lead that seemed insurmountable. Incredibly, Mayo refused to give up and, buoyed by a 51st-minute goal from substitute Alan Moran and a total run of 1-5 without reply, roared back to clinch a dream victory.

Dublin were unlucky losers and will feel that they deserved at least a draw but there was to be no denying Mayo today and, after this display, the westerners will feel that they have every chance against Kerry in the final.

The match had a fascinating preface when Mayo came onto the pitch first and defiantly went straight to the Hill end to warm up. When Dublin emerged some five minutes later, they also strolled to their traditional patch of HQ and both sides prepared in tandem at the same end, stirring up an electric atmosphere and whipping the crowd into a real frenzy.

It was a bold move from the Connacht champions and we had unbelievable drama in the form of a tense stand-off before a ball was even kicked. The stage was set for a classic match and the two sets of players did not disappoint.

Mayo won the toss and David Heaney opted to play into the Canal End. Keith Higgins fumbled the first ball landed into the Mayo defence but the corner back recovered well to block Alan Brogan’s shot.

Opening exchanges were tight and Ciaran Whelan picked up an early tick for a swipe at Ronan McGarrity. Conor Mortimer fired the visitors into a fourth-minute lead with an excellent point after being placed by Ciaran McDonald’s pass.

The otherwise flawless Mortimer than had a poor wide with the goal at his mercy but Dublin missed four great chances to equalise – Conal Keaney’s free dropped short; Thomas Quinn hit the post from a ’45’; and ’Mossie’ then sent two comparatively-simple frees wide of the target. The second free in particular was highly dubious.

McDonald highlighted his value to the Mayo team on eleven minutes when he sliced over a stunning point from a sideline ball off the outside of his trusty left foot and Ballintubber’s Alan Dillon made it 0-3 to no score with a superb 12th-minute free.

Mayo missed two good chances to extend their advantage when McDonald sent a free wide (after Jason Sherlock saw yellow for a rash challenge) and Mortimer dropped his free short following Barry Cahill’s foul on McDonald.

Dillon contributed his county’s fourth point with a deft flick that sailed only inches over the exposed Dublin net. Mickey Moran’s men were unlucky not to get a goal after delightful play by Mortimer and McDonald carved the Dubs’ defence wide open.

Conal Keaney opened the Dublin account at the end of the first quarter and Ciaran Whelan was extremely fortunate to stay on the field after a crude high ’tackle’ on the unfortunate McGarrity. Somehow, the big No.8 escaped with a yellow card – a poor call by referee Paddy Russell, who otherwise handled this match very well and must get credit for his contribution to the entertainment.

Ger Brady – with a sublime score off the outside of the right boot – traded points with Ray Cosgrove – and the Dubs were suddenly level when Keaney found the net in the 23rd minute: the outstanding Alan Brogan (a certain All Star) sprinted through the Mayo defence and his low shot was saved by goalkeeper David Clarke. However, Keaney was in the right place at the right time and kicked the ball to an empty net.

A Cosgrove point had Dublin ahead for the first time but Mayo rallied to respond with a nice score from raiding wing back Aidan Higgins.

Paul Caffrey temporarily replaced Whelan and Kevin Bonner with Darren McGee and Declan Lally respectively and Keaney put Dublin back in front after latching onto a majestic Quinn pass through the eye of a needle. It might well have been a goal as the No.10 found himself in a one-on-one with Clarke but opted to fist over the bar.

Sherlock was unlucky not to get a second Dublin goal. He did everything right but his piledriver rebounded back into play off the underside of the crossbar. Mayo might also have had a three-pointer but Mortimer floated a right-footed shot over the bar when a return pass to Dillon (who had an open goal) would surely have been the more prudent option.

Still feeling the effects of the hit he took from Whelan, McGarrity was forced out of the action to be replaced by Barry Moran

Higgins diverted Brogan’s fierce goalbound drive behind the goal and Quinn obliged from the resultant ’45’. Michael Conroy and Keaney struck poor wides for either side, and, three minutes into added time, inspirational substitute Kevin O’Neill drew Mayo level with a wonderful strike only seconds after replacing the ineffective Conroy.

Incredibly, Mortimer capped a thrilling first half with another terrific point seconds later and the Connacht champions had stolen a narrow interval lead, 0-9 to 1-5. The opening half was a titanic battle but Mayo – demonstrating remarkable composure, aggression and craft - had been the better side and deserved to be in front.

Dublin, on the other hand, were fortunate to be just a point adrift at the break and were also fortunate to be able to re-introduce Whelan on the restart, with Cahill making way.

The Metropolitans totally transformed the face of the game with a run of 1-3 inside the first four minutes of the second half, with Mayo’s defence all over the place. Brogan got all three of those points and Sherlock bagged the goal.

Brogan had given Keith Higgins a torrid time in the first half and the Dublin No. 11 had his team level within 50 seconds of the restart. Dublin then walked the ball to the goal with a series of clever handpasses, finished easily by Jayo to an empty net.

Brogan’s brace was followed by a pointed free from Quinn and, amazingly, Dublin led emphatically – 2-9 to 0-9 – with less than seven second-half minutes played.

Mayo, who had been so outstanding in the first half, were now under immense pressure. Mortimer lifted the siege temporarily but Dublin tagged on further fisted points from Bonner and Keaney. Trailing by 2-11 to 0-10, Mayo would outscore the Leinster champions by 1-6 to 0-1 in the last 23 minutes.

In the 47th minute, Ger Brady’s second point closed the gap to two goals and deadly Dillon popped over another point three minutes later.

Mayo needed a goal and it duly arrived in the 51st minute: sub Andy Moran latched onto a visionary O’Neill pass and managed to evade both Shane Ryan and goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton to strike the ball to the bottom corner of the net. Despite Dublin’s blistering surge at the start of the second half, the Green & Red were within two points as a sensational match ebbed into its final quarter.

Mayo’s substitutions were working wonderfully and they drew level with two points inside a minute from O’Neill and the brilliant Dillon. With 14 minutes remaining, Mortimer kept his cool to clip over a great free and put the Connacht county ahead by the narrowest of margins – 1-15 to 2-11.

Resilient Mayo had notched 1-5 without reply to turn a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead.

Dublin’s sorry scoring drought continued as Keaney dropped a shot short into Clarke’s arms and, at the other end, O’Neill shot wide at the end of a flowing Mayo move in the 62nd minute.

Mortimer missed a chance to extend Mayo’s lead from a free six minutes from the end and Pillar Caffrey played his last card when replacing Quinn with Mark Vaughan.

Dublin’s best player Brogan levelled matters with a superb point at the end of a rare Dublin attack and Vaughan was unfortunate when his attempt at the lead point came back off an upright. On such fine margins are championship matches won and lost.

In the 67th minute, McDonald scored the point of the match to put Mayo back ahead. The Crossmolina maestro made a powerful, lung-bursting overlapping run down the left flank and split the posts with a stellar strike from an acute angle after gaining possession.

Vaughan’s ’45’ on the stroke of normal time was punched to safety by the huge frame of Clarke and the same player drove another long-range free wide of the target in the third minute of injury time

Four minutes were added altogether and Mayo – who scored 1-7 into the Hill in the second half - held out in a tense finale to book a dramatic but thoroughly-deserved passage to the 2006 All-Ireland SFC final.

Mayo: D Clarke; D Geraghty, D Heaney, K Higgins; A Higgins (0-1), J Nallen, P Gardiner; R McGarrity, P Harte; BJ Padden, G Brady (0-2), A Dillon (0-4); M Conroy, C Mortimer (0-5), C McDonald (0-2). Subs: B Moran, K O’Neill (0-2), D Brady, A Kilcoyne, A Moran (1-0)

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Henry, B Cahill, P Griffin; P Casey, B Cullen, C Goggins; C Whelan, S Ryan; C Keaney (1-3), A Brogan (0-4), R Cosgrove (0-2); J Sherlock (1-0), K Bonner (0-1), T Quinn (0-2). Subs: D Lally, D McGee, C Whelan, S Connell, M Vaughan, C Moran