Wednesday 17 January 2018

Chaos reigns ... now for the replay

Dublin 2-9 Mayo 0-15

Cillian O'Connor of Mayo in action against Dublin's David Byrne during the All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park yesterday Photo: Sportsfile
Cillian O'Connor of Mayo in action against Dublin's David Byrne during the All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park yesterday Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan's shot is deflected off the foot of Mayo's Kevin McLoughlin for Dublin's first goal during during the All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park yesterday Photo: Sportsfile

Strange things happen in All-Ireland finals, but we're struggling to recall a September showpiece quite like this.

This year's football decider came straight from the theatre of the absurd, and we're not just talking about Dublin's bizarre green flag brace - surely the first time ever that two own goals have been gift-wrapped for the same team on such a huge occasion.

But, when the craziness ended after some nine minutes of second half stoppage time, we were left with the same scenario as last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

Deadlock. Stalemate. And everyone none the wiser about the destination of Sam Maguire as we contemplate the first All-Ireland SFC final replay since Kerry/Galway went to a second day in 2000.

Dublin never trailed from the moment Kevin McLoughlin unwittingly diverted the ball into his own net in the ninth minute ... but to use that as an argument that they deserved victory flies in the face of almost everything witnessed by 82,257 spectactors in Croke Park.

And in fairness to Jim Gavin, he wasn't making any such grandiose claims afterwards.

And yet, for most of this error-strewn yet weirdly captivating final, the sense that Mayo were destined to suffer their ultimate All-Ireland misery hung in the dank air above GAA Headquarters.

Perhaps the only people who didn't believe this were wearing green-and-red on the pitch below.

Cillian O'Connor - off-colour in the first half, defiant in the second - was the man who made it all possible, the Mayo skipper nailing a brilliant high-pressure equaliser in the 77th minute.

There followed another lengthy delay after Stephen Cluxton's kickout to Denis Bastick culminated in a clash of heads which left Evan Regan in a dazed and crumpled heap.

A brief melee (the last but certainly not the first of a tetchy afternoon) erupted before peace was restored. Not long after, Conor Lane brought an end to the mayhem - and was probably happy to escape centre-stage after a difficult day for the Cork whistler.

The replay has been fixed for Croker on Saturday week, October 1 (throw-in 5pm). Bring your hard hats ...

Make sense

Trying to make sense of yesterday will probably require several DVD reruns. A mood of near-anarchy had been established when Mayo burst onto the pitch, barely seconds after Dublin, the GAA's carefully choreographed schedule blown to smithereens. A few angry jostles ensued (in echoes of '06) and a ball still hadn't been kicked.

When the game itself started, you could immediately glean that Mayo were in the zone; Dublin anything but.

The Connacht men had the first two scores - a Tom Parsons point and an O'Connor free. In between, they created a couple of half-chances for goal; but Jonny Cooper got his body in the way of Patrick Durcan's shot and then Cluxton made an instinctive save from Aidan O'Shea's flick-on.

The craziness was about to start ...

The suggestion that Mayo's 65-year search for an All-Ireland title has been somehow 'cursed' is, of course, patent nonsense ... and yet watching what was about to unfold, you were left to wonder was there actually some truth in that tall tale of an angered clergyman venting his wrath back in 1951.

Dublin only scored 2-9 and didn't lose. Correction: Dublin only scored 0-9 and didn't lose.

Mayo scored 17 times ... but two of those happened to be goals sent spiralling past their own 'keeper, David Clarke.

Mayo's initial decision to push up on Cluxton's restarts led, indirectly, to that first goal. The Sky Blue skipper went long to Michael Darragh Macauley; the resultant move ended with Brian Fenton bearing down on goal.

Clarke saved but the ball broke to Bernard Brogan, who pulled first time ... cue a double-ricochet, off Brendan Harrison into the path of McLoughlin, and into the net.


Disaster No 1 was followed by freak No 2 on 21 minutes, when Diarmuid Connolly's sublime over-the-top free found Dean Rock, ghosting behind Colm Boyle. But as Rock spilled the slippery ball, it fell against the back-pedalling Boyle ... and into the net again.

This gift-wrapped double-whammy papered over the cracks of a Dublin attack that was being beaten in many of the individual match-ups (kudos to Stephen Rochford & Co) and by Mayo's intensity.

When Rock converted his own free (questionably called against the out-rushing Clarke), Dublin had finally 'scored' themselves ... and it had taken half-an-hour.

By then, James McCarthy had departed for a black card that angered player and team like ... but the move played into Dublin hands, as Paddy Andrews entered the fray to kick a quickfire brace, and Ciarán Kilkenny reverted to wing-back haunts from where his influence grew.

Yet the second half, for the most part, belonged to Mayo. Their four-point salvo, within five minutes of the restart, set the agenda; they were level by the 46th.

Dublin's two best players - John Small with the interception ahead of Diarmuid O'Connor; Brian Fenton with the point to finish the move - edged Dublin back ahead in the 51st minute.

Mayo would fall two adrift and bounce back to parity. Then Dublin hit back with three quick points, pushing them to the brink of back-to-back deliverance ... only for a Cillian O'Connor free, Donal Vaughan and O'Connor again to salvage the dream on a day when Mayo refused to say 'No'.

Yesterday, Dublin got away with it.

Surely they can't play so poorly again?

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