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Sunday 11 December 2016

Eamon Carr: No chokers in Croker as heavyweight billing lives up to great expectations

Mayo stage late rescue mission in hunt for Sam

Dublin team
Dublin team

It's a phrase more commonly associated with Muhammad Ali.

But even before referee Joe McQuillan blew the final whistle on 78 minutes of Championship footballing intensity, the expression "rope-a-dope" had sprung to mind.

With nine minutes left on the clock, both Alan Brogan and Jack McCaffrey stuck over points in quick succession that put Dublin seven points ahead. Those point came shortly after Kevin McManamon's right boot blasted the ball into the net.

Dublin were rampant. Mayo had been profligate in front of the posts.

The only concern the majority of supporters in blue had was how to get hold of tickets for the final. And then, like Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, Mayo stirred themselves.

chance

A couple of points were followed by Cillian O'Connor uncharacteristically blowing a possible goal chance. But they stuck with it. And got their rewards. Two more points and a goal, from a penalty, tied up the match with a minute to go.

When it was announced that at least five minutes of extra time would be played, emotions in a sold out Croke Park (82,300 seats filled) went into freefall.

What followed was five minutes of high-stakes, helter-skelter, do-or-die athleticism.

At first, it was advantage Dublin. But with a scoring chance at his mercy, the normality dependable long range free-taker, Stephen Cluxton watched his kick sail wide. Perhaps the sight of Diarmuid Connolly being shown a red card, for what looked like a demonstration of Conor McGregor-style grappling between himself and Mayo's Lee Keegan, played on the Dublin captain's mind.

From the kick-out Mayo surged forward but Dublin snuffed out their attack.

Both teams had opportunities to seal the deal and neglected to do so. Who was the happier?

Afterwards, both managers picked the positives from the bones of their disappointment.

"We're delighted with the character of the team," said Mayo's Noel Connelly. "Maybe in days gone by, a seven point deficit with twelve minutes to go may have been too much. The lads showed great determination. At the end we were on top and maybe unlucky not to get a chance to nail it."

Dublin boss Jim Gavin was also smiling. "Mayo are one of the top teams in the country and came back well. Still, when we were a man down, we rallied hard and showed good composure."

Gavin, whose Dublin team had a relatively cushy Championship run to far, said, "That game will do us the world of good. We haven't experienced that intensity all season. It was four weeks since our last game and we'll be the better for it the next day."

His opposite number, Connelly noted: "The boys in the dressing-room are very upbeat right now, for the way that they worked to come back and draw the game. But I don't think anybody has an advantage going into next week.

"Games like that obviously will bring you on hugely but, at the same time, a lot of energy was expended and it takes a lot out of the system," he added. "It's very difficult for teams to recover in a week. Dublin are still favourites."

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