By James McMahon
The 2012 All-Ireland semi-final saw Mayo hang on to beat Dublin by three points. At one stage early in the second half, the Connacht side held a 10-point advantage.
The expected Dublin surge did materialise, but they just fell short. Mayo, under the guidance of James Horan, had firmly introduced themselves as a serious contender.
Prior to last Saturday night’s League encounter, the counties had gone on to meet three times since, with Jim Gavin’s side emerging victorious on each occasion. In order for Mayo to gain some sort of psychological advantage the perception was that they needed to get a victory from the Round 6 clash at GAA HQ.
The final score of 3-14 to 2-17 also tells part of the story in a game where Stephen Cluxton was red-carded and Mayo let slip a five-point lead with just a few minutes remaining. You were in no doubt which side left the field the happier!
Cluxton’s dismissal on the half-hour mark was for kicking out at Kevin McLoughlin after the Mayo player impeded his kick-out. To use the old cliché, it was a moment of madness from the Dublin netminder and evoked memories of his sending off against Armagh in a 2003 All-Ireland qualifier.
His replacement, Sean Currie from Ballymun Kickhams club had a nervy night and he was at fault for Mayo’s second goal. It will be interesting to see who, in the absence of Cluxton, Jim Gavin selects at number one to face Tyrone on Sunday next.
For the most part Mayo coped well with the extra man. Jason Gibbons and Aidan O’Shea impressed around the middle, while the aforementioned McLoughlin was a constant threat up front and took his goal well in the first half.
Sub Mickey Sweeney also stood out when introduced after the break and capitalised on some sleepiness in the Dublin defence to raise Mayo’s second green flag.
As the clocked ticked down toward 70 minutes, a win for the westerners still looked the most likely outcome. However, in the words of their manager Horan, they “stopped playing” and would eventually be made to pay as two Eoghan O’Gara goals helped salvage a point for the All-Ireland champions.
The latter strike came after a period of play where Mayo were trying to keep possession in their own half. To footballing purists, the kind of lateral hand-passing that we witnessed late on from the Green and Red is at odds with the traditional values of the game.
We’d all agree that it’s a high-risk strategy and when Diarmuid Connolly dispossessed Seamus O’Shea, Dublin orchestrated a move where Alan Brogan found O’Gara.
The Synge Street player unleashed a ferocious shot to the back of the net to tie things up. Jack McCaffrey had a chance to win it for the Dubs at the death, but his effort for a point drifted to the left and wide.
Cormac Reilly’s final whistle, not surprisingly, was met with contrasting emotions. Quite simply, Mayo had enough chances to win this game – and to get one over on the Dubs even at this early stage of the year. It is possible that the counties could meet in a League decider on 27 April.
And if they both jump all the fences in the Championship chase they could line up again in the All-Ireland decider come September. As of now Dublin have the upper hand.
So far in the spring campaign Mayo have conceded 13 goals, a surprising stat, given that under Horan, Mayo have been quite adept at minding the house.
For Dublin, Gavin has goalkeeping issues to sort out in the short term, and his defence looked vulnerable on a few occasions on Saturday night.
However the manner in which his side kept plugging away to ultimately secure a draw will have pleased him. In attack Alan Brogan and Cormac Costello put in a good shift.
Dublin are not going as well as they were this time last year, but still they are only one win away from reaching a League semi-final. However, facing Tyrone in Omagh on Sunday next will be a further test of their credentials. Their previous trip north saw them comfortably beaten by Derry.
Brian McIver’s side are Mayo’s opponents in Castlebar on the final day. Last year Mayo needed a win away to Cork in the last round to seal their semi-final spot.
They achieved just that and they will need to be equally as driven to see past the challenge of Derry, who despite being in the last-four, have proven to be formidable opponents for all their rivals this spring.
However, a win over Dublin would have given Mayo a greater pep in their step ahead of this vital clash.