Sunday 17 December 2017

Paul Curran: Absorbing game - but how the hell did Dublin not win it?

Colm Boyle, seen here in action against Bernard Brogan, was outstanding for Mayo
Colm Boyle, seen here in action against Bernard Brogan, was outstanding for Mayo

An absolutely absorbing second All-Ireland SFC semi-final ended all square and it was another outstanding advertisement for the game. Both sets of players went at it from the throw in and in the end both teams will be happy to have another chance next Saturday.

Dublin will wonder how the hell they managed to lose a seven-point lead with just nine minutes left on the clock but much of the credit must go to the Mayo players who refused to let this game slip away.

They will look back at some terrible shooting and option taking from their forwards which prevented them from getting level or even ahead early in the second half.

They will, though, take a massive feel-good factor into training this week which will give them a lot of confidence going into the replay. But they will need to be a lot better the next day.

The game had everything including black, yellow and red cards. It had some outstanding tackling, great high fielding and some sublime score taking from the Dublin forwards and Cillian O'Connor.

The first half was a low-key affair with both teams setting up with numbers in defence so it was no surprise that the scores didn't flow. Lee Keegan got the ball rolling but that was to be his side's only score from play in the opening half.

That's an extraordinary statistic in itself but Cillian O'Connor was able to nail all his frees - only for that Dublin would have been out of sight.

At the other end all the Dublin forwards looked capable of scoring, in particular Ciaran Kilkenny, who managed two terrific scores off either foot.

Diarmuid Connolly converted a penalty, although the indiscretion took place just outside the area, and that score seemed to rock Mayo back.

I could not believe that Stephen Cluxton was allowed to kick out short as this tactic hurt Mayo in the final a couple of years ago. I suppose the big difference yesterday was that Cluxton was never allowed to kick long into the middle of the field which would have got Dublin on the front foot in a very advanced position.

Instead the Dubs had to work it through the hands and at times had to go backwards.

This seemed to unsettle Dublin at times and Mayo were able to get some joy from turnovers in that part of the field. Having said that I thought yesterday was one of Dublin's best defensive displays for a long time.

We lost Rory to a nasty head injury very early on but the players adapted and stuck to their guns. The threat of Aidan O'Shea was constant but group tackling and tracking gave him very little space to operate.

Watched closely

He will need to be watched closely again next weekend and the fact that he probably underperformed will give him huge motivation. In fairness to him, he battled hard under difficult circumstances with very little support.

There were some other outstanding individual performances on the Mayo team and none more so than Colm Boyle who is an outstanding wing back who brings his A game time and again.

It was his lung-busting drive into the penalty area that resulted in the all-important penalty which O'Connor converted with a calmness we have come to expect from him.

The decision to give a penalty was a questionable one at best with Boyle tearing into a ruck of players with no control over the football but that wasn't the only poor decision from McQuillan in the game.

It was a very difficult game to referee because lots of stuff went on all over the park and he would have needed eyes in the back of his head to see it all.

The game was littered with nastiness throughout and it will take a very strong referee to keep control of the replay.

For Dublin and Jim Gavin the positives start with the fact that they are still in the championship after getting their first real test of the year.

There are still too many Dublin players who are not performing at the level we have become accustomed with over the last few seasons but I am sure the likes of Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly and even Bernard Brogan will have a huge influence from here on in.

I am already looking forward to the replay and I suppose its déjà vu for Mayo as they face into a second semi-final replay in two seasons. Last year they should have won both games against Kerry but were done by a little bit of cuteness in the end.

This year they don't have to travel to Limerick and will be very comfortable coming back to headquarters. It promises to be another fascinating contest between these two great teams.

Six days and counting.

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