Dubs win at a canter - League final berth back in sight but same old failings return to haunt Horan’s Mayo
Dublin 1-12 Mayo 0-7
The results may change but Jim Gavin's implacable post-match demeanour never does.
Beforehand, the question on some overly excitable lips was: "It this a Sky Blue blip or the first hint of an unfolding crisis?"
Seventy cruise-control minutes later, the All-Ireland kingpins were firmly back in the mix to chase down a seventh consecutive Allianz Football League final berth ... but Gavin, inscrutable as ever, wouldn't dare to consider the last Sunday in March when the first one will take him to Roscommon.
"Our concentration now is on Roscommon, and trying to get a performance there," he dead-panned. "It's going to be a really tough game down there, and that's just where our focus is and we've just taken it one game at a time, as we always have in the previous seasons.
"Games have gone with us or against us. It's a really competitive league and you have to be on song for each of the games."
They were in fine voice on Saturday night - measured, controlled, without ever quite hitting the high notes. And just as well for a misfiring Mayo - because if Dublin had been at their ruthless best, or if Rob Hennelly hadn't made such an inspirational return to his Croke Park theatre of screams (circa October 2016), then this could have been carnage.
By the final bell, Dublin's lead had stretched to eight after a night when Hennelly's six saves (to deny Paul Mannion and Cormac Costello twice, Jack McCaffrey and Con O'Callaghan) outweighed the one significant stop from Evan Comerford, stealing a yard off his line and diving low to repel Jason Doherty's 33rd minute penalty.
It was one of those nights when Hennelly's towering influence stood almost as an indictment of his team-mates. Leaving aside those half-dozen saves, he was Mayo's joint-top scorer with 0-2 from placed balls. Enough said.
Costello took the official Man of the Match plaudits by virtue of his eye-catching 1-4 (2f), his 19th minute howitzer turning the contest firmly in Dublin's favour after he had twisted Keith Higgins inside and out in the preamble.
Comerford pushed him close as Dublin's best player - not so much for the penalty save but his exquisitely pinpoint restarts, banishing any post-Tralee doubts about Dublin's young deputy custodian. Stephen Cluxton was back listed in the subs here but this is his longest league 'rest' under Gavin, now stretching to four games.
Will Cluxton be back for Roscommon? "Yeah, that's a possibility. Just need to sit down and review it," said Gavin.
The positives for Dublin included seamless seasonal returns for Cian O'Sullivan and Ciarán Kilkenny and David Byrne's assured first appearance since last year's league final. Privately, Gavin might ask himself is this the real Mayo or another example of them playing like spring lambs only to morph into September lions?
Then again, on a night when a meagre 0-3 from play contrasted with 14 grisly wides and when they picked up two black cards (for Lee Keegan and Séamus O'Shea) without ever coming close to the aggressive, front-foot football sustained by Kerry two weeks earlier, you've got to wonder.
James Horan didn't sugarcoat his words. "I just thought we were tentative and we stood off right from the start. We didn't have any composure ... we had 18 or so attacks in the first half and we gave 11 turnovers out of 18," he lamented.
"It doesn't matter who you're playing, if you play like we started tonight you'll get beaten. Dublin, on the opposite side, were very good. They were physical, bullied us a little bit and that was it, as simple as that. We got what we deserved. We were probably lucky we didn't get beaten by more."
SCORERS - Dublin: C Costello 1-4 (2f), P Mannion (1f), D Rock (1m, 1f) 0-2 each, C Kilkenny, J McCaffrey, C O'Callaghan, B Fenton 0-1 each. Mayo: R Hennelly (1f, 1 '45'), J Doherty (2f) 0-2 each, F McDonagh, M Ruane, K McLoughlin 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, J Cooper; J McCaffrey, C O'Sullivan, E Murchan; B Fenton, D Gavin; B Howard, C O'Callaghan, N Scully; P Mannion, C Kilkenny, C Costello. Subs: D Rock for Kilkenny (49), P Andrews for Mannion (58), S Bugler for Howard (64), D Daly for Fitzsimons (inj 65), MD Macauley for Gavin (67).
MAYO: R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, B Harrison; P Durcan, C Boyle, L Keegan; M Ruane, D Vaughan; F McDonagh, A O'Shea, C Treacy; A Moran, B Reape, J Doherty. Subs: C Barrett for Cafferkey (inj 20), K McLoughlin for Treacy (inj 35+1), S O'Shea for Durcan (ht), F Boland for Moran (59), S Coen for Reape (69).
WIDES: Dublin 8 (4+4); Mayo 14 (7+7)
YELLOW: Dublin 2 (Cooper 33, O'Callaghan 46); Mayo 1 (Boyle 46)
BLACK: Mayo 2 (Keegan 27, S O'Shea 50)
REF: B Cassidy (Derry). ATT: 35,213.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Rob Hennelly (Mayo).