Dublin have their mojo back as they crush Mayo
Bastick stars at both ends in 14-point rout as Dubs' marquee names bring out best in league champs
ONE "small step" forward for Dublin, according to their manager ... but is it one giant step backward for Mayo?
Saturday night's Division One shindig in Castlebar was billed as a must-perform (whatever about must-win) match for Dublin after their early-March meanderings.
In the event, we got both - a scintillating display and a staggering result. But when one All-Ireland contender demolishes another by 14 points in their own back yard ... well, in the Cheltenham week that was in it, surely a steward's inquiry is called for?
Were Mayo trying to pull a fast one? Was it just one of those days, or nights, that happen most teams at least once during the week-on-week frenzy that is the Allianz Football League? Or are the four-in-a-row Connacht champions (whisper it softly) in the first stages of a calamitous regression?
It's early days in the Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly era so the jury remains out. What we can deduce, though, is that Dublin have their mojo back.
Coming after two scratchy displays yielding just one league point against Kerry and Tyrone had parachuted them into the relegation zone, this timely transformation coincided with first starts of the season for Cian O'Sullivan, Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly.
But it wasn't merely the return of some marquee names that put an extra pep in Dublin's step. Some of their most dynamic performers were players who have clocked a high mileage this spring - Jonny Cooper, Denis Bastick, Tomás Brady and the curiously scoreless Kevin McManamon, to name four.
Overall, though, it was Dublin's attitude, their well-channelled aggression in the tackle, their tidy execution of the fundamentals that set them apart from error-riddled hosts. Plus their readiness to go straight for Mayo's far-too-exposed jugular during a rampant first half that finished 2-10 to 0-6.
And to think, Mayo scored the first two points, a misleading brace if ever there was one from Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin.
Dublin's response was to kick the next 1-5 in six devastating minutes. Brady was especially to the fore, while Flynn played his part with the angled ball (poorly dealt with by Tom Cunniffe) that led to Bernard Brogan's seventh-minute rasper off the bar and Bastick's routine rebound.
Brogan's 22nd-minute goal made it 2-7 to 0-4 and ended any pretence of a contest. Mayo pedants will point to McManamon's double-hop before teeing up the chance on a plate for Brogan.
A more forensic post-mortem will trace back to the miscued crossfield pass by two-time All Star Colm Boyle - straight to O'Sullivan - and then the simplicity with which Dublin's swift counter cut open Mayo's exposed centre.
That entire cameo was symptomatic of the gulf in attitude, execution, everything. Ditto with the 44th-minute goal chance, partly butchered by Mayo (when Aidan O'Shea slipped and had to offload to Mark Ronaldson) but equally denied by Bastick's willingness to get back and his bravery to complete a spectacular point-blank diving save on the Mayo corner-forward.
Who needs Stephen Cluxton, eh?