Monday 20 January 2020

The pain is still raw

Seven years on, memories of Mayo's last win remain vivid

Dublin’s Eamon Fennell in action in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo
Dublin’s Eamon Fennell in action in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo

It was, Eamon Fennell admits now, "a shitty way to go."

They didn't know it at the time but as the Dublin players slumped back into the dressing-room under the Hogan Stand in Croke Park after their 2012 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Mayo, it would be the last time they were together with Pat Gilroy as their manager

And Fennell, after his best season as an inter-county footballer, never played for Dublin again.

David Hickey, brought into the management setup by Gilroy as much for his infectious enthusiasm as his football or medical expertise, turned to the big St Vincent's midfielder, smiled sympathetically and said: "we didn't lose that game. We just ran out of time."

Dublin were out. They were no longer All-Ireland champions.

And a couple of weeks later, Gilroy's transformative reign as manager ended.

"All year we'd be starting really slow and finishing really strong," Fennell recalls of Dublin's first attempt this decade at retaining Sam Maguire following the breakthrough season of 2011.

"So we knew we were going to come good in that game."

Mayo exploded into the match producing a display of clinical shooting that made a mockery of the county's clichéd reputation for wanton squandering of scoring chances.

By the 52nd minute, they led by nine points.

Reigning Footballer of the Year Alan Brogan started that day on the bench due to a nagging groin injury.

He was brought on at half-time but lasted only 19 minutes before the injury forced him back off.

"I shouldn't really have played that day," Brogan recalls.

"Management left it up to me as to whether I would play some part."

"We came in cold to that match," he reckons. "We hadn't been in the trenches at all that year.

"It just caught up on us."

By the time Brogan left in the 54th minute, Dublin had come thundering back into the game.

Hickey's hypothesis that Dublin simply ran out of time was probably accurate.

Fennell has another theory.

"If we had played that match with the rules that are in place now, the result would have been different," he says, referring specifically to the black card rule that was introduced less than two years later.

"Towards the end of that game, they were very cynical in their fouling," Fennell recalls.

"They were just dragging us down. They kept slowing us down with these deliberate cynical fouls.

"We were picking up speed towards that last ten minutes but they just kept slowing us down and stopping us adding on the couple of scores that would have made a difference with foul after foul.

"That wasn't new to us," he points out.

"We were coming up against teams that were trying everything; trying to target Bernard, trying to target Diarmuid.

"We knew that was in their game. We were just told not to lose the head when it happened. Deal with it and move on.

"But it was happening so much in that game that you can see the frustration starting to creep in with a few of the lads."

Prior to the game, Mayo had been priced at 11/5 to win.

It was their second successive Championship victory over Dublin following the 2006 win that became infamous for Mayo's decision to warm up at the Hill 16 end.

Expectation of a Mayo All-Ireland was as high then as it has been for any of the four All-Ireland finals (including the 2016 replay) they have played in since.

Fennell wasn't convinced.

"There was no way Mayo could go to the well like that twice," he says.

"They were so hyped up after that win. They were just on a different level. Mayo just had an unbelievable day and it was always going to be hard to replicate."

That match is noteworthy for many reasons.

Almost seven years later, it remains the last time Mayo have beaten Dublin in either League or Championship.

It was also Ciarán Kilkenny's senior debut and remains the only championship match he has lost for Dublin.

For Fennell, who never found favour with Jim Gavin, it was to be his final appearance in a Dublin shirt.

"The funny thing was, it was my best year in a Dublin jersey. First of all, I had a year when I wasn't injured, which was a rarity. But I just felt good all year.

"You look back and think 'what if I did this' or 'what if I did that?'

"Look," he adds, "I got what I wanted out of playing for Dublin. But it was still a shitty way for it to finish."

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