Blues pleased to make point
Dublin boss Gilroy says he's not bothered by relegation threat after battling to share spoils
BOTH Mayo and Dublin came to James Stephen's Park with the spectre of relegation hanging over their heads -- or the Sword of Damocles, as former Sky Blue selector-cum-philosopher Dave Billings might have termed it.
What followed then, not surprisingly, was a typically grim relegation four-pointer. The game was played on a surface you couldn't trust, overseen by a referee who frequently bemused. The action was pockmarked by poor shooting, misdirected passing, dubious option-taking -- but any amount of whole-hearted, energetic endeavour.
And it finished with the right result -- a draw -- because neither team displayed sufficient quality to merit both points and yet neither deserved a blank return either.
As befits games that end in stalemate, both managers declared themselves delighted with the commitment of their players and relatively satisfied with a draw.
Pat Gilroy went further -- he doesn't believe Dublin will be demoted if they play like this in their last two Allianz Football League outings ... and even if that happens, he won't be overly agitated.
"I don't bother myself with things like relegation," he insisted. "It's really important that we start to get performances like that on a consistent basis. If we had lost that game, it was still a very good performance.
"We got a point -- great. And if we produce two more performances like that, I'd be very surprised if we would get relegated."
Gilroy won't need to look back on the DVD to realise it could have been even better.
If the wind-propelled Dubs had ruthlessly capitalised on their near-total subjugation of a floundering Mayo during the first 25 minutes, they would have been home and hosed.
Instead, they 'only' led by 0-5 to no score. By then, they had already registered ten wides and fluffed a glorious two-on-one goal chance, when the otherwise impressive Diarmuid Connolly delayed his pass and consequently failed to find the unmarked Conal Keaney. All this and Mayo hadn't even scored yet.
But then Alan Dillon -- their one menacing forward in a sea of mediocrity -- capped an incisive run with their first point on 26 minutes. By the midpoint, an improving Mayo only trailed by 0-6 to 0-4 and the auguries looked ominous for the visitors.
But if yesterday proved anything, it is that misfiring forwards may kick the ball further when aided by a wind but they won't necessarily kick it any straighter. Where Dublin had amassed 11 wides before the break, Mayo took up the second-half baton with seven.
Connolly and Dillon were notable exceptions to the errant rule. The St Vincent's man kicked five sumptuous points -- three from play and two exquisite 45s. Blaine Kelly was next best of the Dublin forwards, competing well for his own ball, but Bernard Brogan surprisingly struggled against the adhesive Liam O'Malley.
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of Dublin's display was their sheer bloody-mindedness in the last quarter. They had already lost Ger Brennan to the game's only yellow card when Mayo -- with Dillon orchestrating affairs -- edged ahead for the first time after 54 minutes.
They looked to have all the momentum but, instead, Dublin engineered the next two scores -- a brilliant 45 into the breeze from Connolly, and then a prodigious fisted effort from Keaney.
Briefly, Dublin dreamed of a second consecutive win on the road. But it was not to be: just as the clock hit 70 minutes, the home side were saved by a teenage sub, Aidan O'Shea, who had already come through 80 gruelling minutes for the Mayo U21s in their epic extra-time victory over Roscommon the previous day.
While they couldn't keep out O'Shea's point at the death, it was a much tighter display from Dublin's recently beleaguered full-back line.
David Henry, back in more familiar haunts, excelled in the second half, while Alan Hubbard snuffed out Conor Mortimer, whose listless display must be a cause of some concern for Mayo fans.
Afterwards, Gilroy saluted the vast improvement on Dublin's previous outing against Derry. "The performance was a hell of a lot better," he enthused. "Work-rate, all over the place, was very good. We still made far too many mistakes but I think, as the ground hardens up, our football will get better.
"These guys have an awful lot of belief in themselves," he added. "You could feel it at training during the week -- that everybody was very, very disappointed with the way we played last week."
His Mayo counterpart, John O'Mahony, betrayed a few hints of tetchiness in his post-match comments -- albeit aimed at some recent media assessments as opposed to his players.
"It wasn't a game that was free-flowing; it wasn't a game that we were particularly playing well in. But it was will and passion and absolute commitment to the cause that kept us in the game really," he began. "Obviously we would like to be playing lovely, total, free-flowing football but ... (pregnant pause for emphasis) ... it's March."
Gilroy had no problems with the performance of Armagh whistler Pádraig Hughes whereas O'Mahony, by inference, was damning.
"The other thing I would appreciate very much -- because I am not able to comment -- is that you would go into in-depth analysis of the referee's performance," he requested.
Space doesn't permit a blow-by-blow assessment ... suffice to say, we were left mystified on several occasions. In summary, this result doesn't radically alter the landscape at the basement end of Division 1; it merely increases the probability that it will all go down to the last day.
Mayo now have four points, the same mark as Tyrone, whereas Dublin and Donegal have three and a pointless Westmeath already have one foot in Division 2.
We suspect that Dublin will survive because their last outing is a home clash against Westmeath who, come April 12, may already be doomed.
First, though, the transitional Sky Blues face Kerry at Parnell Park next Sunday and yesterday's patchwork performance won't be enough to suppress aristocrats who currently can't stop winning.