If Mayo manage to go one better than they did last year by September's end, then what happened in Croke Park on Sunday will be a mere footnote in the stories that will be spun about the year for decades to come. Mayo lost by six points, it could have been sixteen if Dublin had taken their goal chances or kept their foot to the floor throughout the second half. But then if Jason Doherty, Cillian O'Connor or Donal Vaughan had taken their own goal chances it might have been even closer come the final whistle. Once Dublin had built up a ten point lead thanks to 20 minutes of breakneck attacking football, which coincided with Mayo forgetting how to defend during the same period midway through the first half the game was done as a contest and Jim Gavin's men were able to keep Mayo at bay, like boxer wearing down his opponent with a constant stream of stinging jabs.
Mayo started brightly as they racing into a three point lead after eleven minutes through with O'Connor kicking two frees either side of a Cathal Carolan score. The Ballintubber man's second point came from a move that should have ended with the first goal of the game, Jason Doherty was played in behind the Dublin defence, but he found Stephen Cluxton in impervious form. Both goalkeepers shot stopping was top notch on Sunday, with David Clarke pulling off a number of smart saves over the 70 minutes to keep Mayo in the game.
With thirteen minutes gone Dublin landed their first score of the game and it was big one. Paul Mannion won the ball in the corner and was able to get inside Kevin Keane a little to easily and his quick fire shot beat Clarke at his near post to get the Dubs up and running and leave Mayo shellshocked. The Dubs puffed out their chests as they hit Mayo for 2-9 from thirteen minutes in, until the thirty-first minute with Mayo only able to hit back with two points in response during that period. Dublin's second goal came only a couple of minutes after their first thanks to a thunderbolt strike from the boot of Ballymun's Paul Flynn. The 2-9 that Dublin scored in that run would have been enough to beat Mayo in five of their pervious league games and draw with them in another, the only game that Mayo scored more than the 15 points it equates to was the previous meeting of the same two sides in Croke Park at the start of March.
The gap was cut to seven at the break as Mayo got a little run going in the final few minutes of the half, Michael Conroy hit spectacular score with O'Connor adding another free and Jason Doherty punching one over the bar. Gibbons' score came at the end of another goal chance that Mayo needed to take if they were really going to get back into it.
At half-time, Richie Feeney was introduced with Jason Doherty making way in a shuffle that saw Gibbons go to the 40' and Aidan O'Shea back out to midfield where he was much more at home and attempted to drag Mayo back into the game almost singlehanded at periods in the final 35 minutes. The debate about where the Breaffy man should start should be well and truly put to bed now and come mid May in Salthill, he should be starting with either number eight or nine on his back.
The second half was as much as a shootout as the first with both sides creating a number of chances, Mayo made a couple of little inroads into the Dublin lead at stages but the metropolitans were able to just go back down the field and add on another score to keep Mayo at bay. Mayo's inability to convert goal chances reared it's head again twice in the second half, first after Donal Vaughan was put through following a breakneck burst up the pitch. But when Stephen Cluxton refused to make the first move, the Ballinrobe man fluffed his shot into the Parnell's man's arms. Dublin worked the ball straight back down the field and Cluxton himself put the ball over the bar from a free a minute later. O'Connor also got in behind the Dublin defence but much like Vaughan he fluffed his lines when the Dublin custodian stood tall in front of him. Aidan O'Shea hit two scores in the second half that would have illuminated any contest and would have been the scores of the day, apart from the fact that Stephen O'Neill nailed two of the most sublime points you will ever see in the first game of the day. O'Shea also took the game by the scruff of the neck and drove Mayo on during the final 35 minutes. Dublin showed the strength of their panel by introducing the likes of Bryan Cullen, Denis Bastick and Kevin McManamon in the second half. While James Horan decided it was time to give Alan Murphy and Michael Walsh some game time for the firs time in the league, while Brian Gallagher was the second man to follow Richie Feeney off the bench and into the action.
Survival in division one was the essential result from this years league campaign, everything after that was bonus territory with Mayo's meeting with Galway in the very near future. Mayo will have hopefully learned a lot from this outing and with Keith Higgins, Barry Moran and Alan Dillon all expected to be back for Galway and Andy Moran at some stage over the summer, there is a lot of experience to come back into the side. But there is also a lot of improving to do too.
Mayo: C O'Connor (0-,8,7f ), M Conroy (0-3 ), A O'Shea (0-1 ), C Carolan (0-1 ), J Gibbons (0-1 )
Dublin: P Mannion (1-4, 1f ), B Brogan (0-5, 1f ), J Whelan (1-1 ), D Connolly (0-3 ), S Cluxton (0-1,1f ), D Daly (0-1 ), J McCaffrey (0-1 )
Mayo: D Clarke; G Cafferkey, C Barrett, K Keane; D Vaughan, L Keegan, C Boyle; J Gibbons, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A O'Shea, C Carolan; J Doherty, C O'Connor, M Conroy. Subs: R Feeney for J Doherty (HT ), B Gallagher for J Gibbons (44 ), S McHale for K Keane (44 ), A Murphy for C Carolan (55 ), E Regan for K McLoughlin (64 ),
Dublin:S Cluxton; K O'Brien, J Cooper, D Daly; P McMahon, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; M D Maculey, C O'Sullivan; J Whelan, D Connolly, P Flynn; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan. Subs: N Devereux for Daly (47 ) D Bastick for C O'Sullivan (49 ), B Cullen for P Flynn (53 ), K McManamon for D Connolly (55 ) M Fitsimons for J Cooper (64 )
Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan )