Dubs show how to win battle in all climes
McCarthy leads way as Blues reaffirm the benchmark for new Mayo boss Rochford
A week earlier, Dublin blew away Kerry with their pace and poise and slick interplay. But that was on a billiard table in Croke Park.
On Saturday night, in a raging tempest, on an ice-rink surface, it was a case of rolling up their sleeves for a battle. A war of attrition with their old Mayo sparring partners.
And still they prevailed.
This team has learned how to win all kinds of games in all kinds of weather. And don't expect travel sickness simply by taking them out of their Croker comfort zone
Saturday night in a wind-lashed Elverys MacHale Park was far removed from last year's 14-point Castlebar cakewalk, but the conditions militated against any repeat ... and so, too, did Mayo's mindset.
Where last March they had been an embarrassment, this time they were hurting from last week's no-show in Cork.
Stephen Rochford needed a response and he got it - up to a point. Ultimately, Mayo are down too many key personnel and still aren't up to fitness speed (given management's late appointment) and it's probably also a case of getting accustomed to the tactical demands of a new regime.
In short, they aren't in the same assured place as Dublin. And it showed in the second half as the hosts, having defended en masse to trail by just 0-4 to 0-3 at the break, struggled to make inroads with the elements.
Contrast this with Dublin, who effectively won the game by kicking three rapid-fire points (a brace of Dean Rock frees sandwiching a sweet left-footed effort from the irrepressible James McCarthy) in less than two minutes, starting in the 46th minute. That left three in it - more like six, on the night that was in it.
Mayo had their chances but lacked their rivals' composure and tended to run too often into Dublin's defensive web. Just one aerial missile made its way to Aidan O'Shea upon his relocation to full-forward - he caught the ball brilliantly but was swallowed up and penalised for over-carrying, to a chorus of Mayo boos.
Dublin, by contrast, looked more energetic - epitomised by the here-there-and-everywhere McCarthy; Jonny Cooper with some surging bursts from deep; and Emmet Ó Conghaile, who showed signs of emerging as a genuine midfield option for 2016.
No wonder Jim Gavin was pleased. "I thought we showed good control," he reflected. "There's a great spirit in the camp and they're enjoying their football, and I thought that showed in the final quarter where, under difficult conditions, they passed it around and closed the game out."
Even though Keith Higgins made a cameo return after his recent knee injury, Rochford still surmised that Mayo lacked "three or four heads maybe to come off the bench with a bit of experience. Dublin were probably able to bring in guys that have played more championship football."
He now has a three-week break before a vital trek to Donegal, with Dublin hosting Monaghan on the same weekend. "While we talk about reaction (after Cork), ultimately we didn't get the two points. We don't do moral victories in that dressing room," Rochford concluded.
It was a dogged affair but, as Gavin pointed out, Dublin expected as much given the conditions. "It's a physical contact sport and we wouldn't have it any other way. I thought both (sets of) players went really hard at it."
Too hard in the case of Philly McMahon, whose early reacquaintance with Aidan O'Shea resulted in a third-minute black card.
Cooper followed him on 70 minutes for a block on Colm Boyle - but then Boyle and John Small both received second yellows at the death, singled out by Pádraig Hughes and his umpires for their involvement in one of two separate, simultaneous melees.
Whoever said Dublin and Mayo like each other?