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Sunday 20 August 2017

Dublin keep rising the bar

Dublin 1-16 Mayo 0-7 Allianz Football League Division 1

John Small of Dublin in action against Donal Vaughan of Mayo during the Allianz Football League Division 1 at Croke Park on Saturday night Picture: Sportsfile
John Small of Dublin in action against Donal Vaughan of Mayo during the Allianz Football League Division 1 at Croke Park on Saturday night Picture: Sportsfile

It's the nearest you'll get to Dublin doing the Ali rope-a-dope. Even while displaying flashes of vulnerability against Tyrone and Donegal, they don't actually lose a game. But they're just waiting to be sent toppling to the canvas, aren't they?

Meanwhile, Mayo go all George Foreman in the run-up to Saturday night's rumble in the Croke Park jungle. They pummel Roscommon in the preamble to their non-title rematch with the Dubs.

All-Ireland kingpins on the ropes?

Don't be absurd!

Mentality

What happened in front of 34,758 ring-side spectators was an ominous reaffirmation of Dublin's power, their footballing prowess, but above all their mentality. Think they have gone soft after 24 months unvanquished in league or championship?

Think again.

Think Mayo are the one arch-rival best equipped to bring them down next August or September? That thought may require some rapid reappraisal after a 12-point capitulation that felt even worse than the 14-point trimming endured against the Dubs two years ago, in only the second match of an unbeaten run that now extends to 33 games.

It's typical in such lopsided circumstances for the winning manager to issue a cautionary "only the league" caveat and for the losing boss to insist they aren't really as bad as the evidence just introduction by the prosecution.

So it was here.

"I wouldn't be getting carried away," Jim Gavin demurred. "It's the first weekend in March and we've three months to go to championship. We've played three good teams (beforehand) ... tough night out there as well despite the score."

Stephen Rochford might beg to differ: he found the entire (non) performance "extremely disappointing". Yet he maintained that Mayo's 11th consecutive failure to beat Dublin - incorporating three draws and now eight defeats - won't seep into their mindset or weaken morale if they should meet in summer-time.

"The reality is that we're a better team than we showed there," he argued. "A week is a long time in football. We didn't feel that we were quite as good as we made ourselves look like last week (against Roscommon). We're certainly not as bad as we made ourselves look this week.

"So, we know we will improve over the next number of weeks. And whether we play Dublin or not later in the summer, that will be something that we'll address when and if we get to that point."

Suffice to say, Rochford has a whole lot of addressing to do. The one morsel of hope is that Mayo have been this abject before (that Sky Blue mauling in Castlebar two years ago; for early periods of last year's league) and recovered to push Dublin to the brink later that season.

But they have multiple issues to sort out: wherever they floundered on Saturday night, Dublin magnified the problem through their own excellence.

Scattergun

Consider the following:

3 This was the latest in a series of league games where Mayo coughed up a handful of clearcut goal chances. Even here, aided by Eoghan O'Gara's scattergun execution among others, they got away it to an extent.

All of this contrasts with Dublin's miserly defensive record in recent weeks, exemplified here by Mi chael Fitzsimons' wonderfully adhesive shut-out of Andy Moran; by Philly McMahon's feisty suppression of Cillian O'Connor (while outscoring him in open play); by the near-total dominance of Dublin's supposedly understrength half-back line.

3 But for David Clarke, it could have been worse. He denied Michael Darragh Macauley in the first half and Paddy Andrews, three times, in that madcap penalty saga.

Yet here was more evidence of that one glaring chink in Clarke's armoury: those looping kickouts that sometimes put his team on the back foot, such as the intercept that led to Conor McHugh's seventh minute goal.

By contrast, while reminding us all of his own shot-stopping prowess, Stephen Cluxton's restarts were typically razor-sharp and frequently put Dublin on the front foot.

3 Jason Gibbons was replaced at half-time. Tom Parsons cut a forlorn figure at times. Why? Because the enduringly brilliant Brian Fenton and the born-again Michael Darragh Macauley ran the midfield show.

3 Not a single Mayo forward scored from play. Ouch. Goes to show the difference between a Rossie and a Dub man-marker. Reiterates the one most glaring Achilles heel that separates Mayo and Dublin when it matters.

SCORERS - Dublin: D Rock 0-8 (6f), C McHugh 1-3, P McMahon, E Lowndes 0-2 each, P Flynn 0-1. Mayo: C O'Connor (2 '45s'), E Regan (2f) 0-2 each, S Coen, T Parsons, C Boyle 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, D Daly; E Lowndes, D Byrne, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny, SB Carthy; D Rock, E O'Gara, C McHugh. Subs: P Andrews for O'Gara (46), P Flynn for Carthy (51), K McManamon for McHugh (55), C Reddin for Byrne (65), E Ó Conghaile for Fenton (70), C Mullally for Small (71).

MAYO: D Clarke; K Higgins, L Keegan, P Durcan; S Coen, C Boyle, D Vaughan; T Parsons, J Gibbons; D O'Connor, K McLoughlin, F Boland; E Regan, A Moran, C O'Connor. Subs: B Harrison for Gibbons (ht), S Nally for Vaughan (BC 50), C O'Shea for Moran (54), C Loftus for D O'Connor (63), D Kirby for Boland (66).

WIDES: Dublin 8 (4+4); Mayo 12 (5+7)

YELLOW: Dublin 3 (Rock 25, McMahon 32, Scully 50); Mayo 2 (D O'Connor 25, Parsons 63).

BLACK: Dublin 0; Mayo 1 (Vaughan 49).

REF: D Coldrick (Meath). ATT: 34,758

MAN OF THE MATCH: Micheal Fitzsimons

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