And so the hunt for final tickets begins. Mayo were coasting after 50 minutes in Croke Park and 15 minutes later they were rocking and almost on the floor. But despite the pressure and the mounting body count, the 22 men who crossed the white chalk on Sunday in green and red, never buckled no matter how much the defending All Ireland champions tried to turn the screw and claw back, what was at one stage a ten point lead. When Alan Dillon clipped over his third point of the game with 20 minutes left on the clock, it was Mayo's 17th point in an extraordinary 50 minutes of football from the Connacht champions. But for the next 21 until Cillian O'Connor drove over his seventh point of the game, Mayo were looking to be crumbling as Dublin reeled back in a 0-17 to 0-7 deficit to have only two between the sides. O'Connor's free put the gap back out to a goal, but back came the All Ireland champions as champions do and Bernard Brogan kicked his sixth and final free to leave hearts racing and a Dublin goal a potential dream killer . But Mayo dug back in and Seamus O'Shea got some space out under the Hogan Stand only minutes after coming on and he held his nerve to drive the ball over the bar and give Mayo the cushion they needed to put themselves into this years All Ireland final.
For the second year in a row, Mayo have tossed the defending champions out of the All Ireland series, and despite that they will go into the final in three weeks times as rank underdogs against a Donegal side who have been on a similar trajectory to Mayo over the past two years. Mayo came into Sunday's game as similar underdogs against a Dublin side, most experts believed had to have a big performance in them somewhere having failed to impress in their games up to this juncture and saw Mayo as the perfect foil for the Dubs to get their act together before they had a crack a Jimmy McGuinnness' men. But Mayo didn't read the script, just as they hadn't read it 12 months ago against Cork. The first ten minutes were a scrappy affair but from as soon as Cillian O'Connor kicked his second 45' in the ninth minute Mayo put the foot down. Aidan O'Shea got tough and physical in the middle of the park. Michael Conroy and Enda Varley made darting runs looking for the ball from the full forward line. Alan Dillon used his full repertoire of shakes and shimmy's to create space where there didn't look to be any to keep the ball moving. Kevin McLoughlin showed the intelligence on the ball and moving for the ball that has marked him out as one of Mayo's most vital players. It was when the Knockmore man went off for a blood injury in the second half that Mayo really came under pressure and his reintroduction near the end was a vital decision to steady the ship when it looked to be sailing into a light blue storm.
Points from McLoughlin, Dillon (twice ), Moran, Conroy, Varley and an huge effort from Jason Doherty pushed Mayo into a 0-12 to 0-6 lead at the break and had green and red hearts daring to dream of what might be ahead. The Dubs were rocked and Mayo were motoring. Despite being named in the side to start, Alan Brogan wasn't fit to start the game, but Dublin were in such trouble the sprung him from the bench at half time, but their marquee man only lasted 17 minutes before he was called ashore. Mayo had their own injury problems to deal with before and during the game. Colm Boyle had to pull out of the starting side because of a virus, but when called upon when numbers were dwindling he came on and gave his all for 15 minutes. Lee Keegan had to come off after 15 minutes, the Westport man has become such a vital part of Mayo's game plan this year, his absence was potentially lethal. But Richie Feeney came on and took his chance with both hands and gave his all while he was on the field, even popping up to nail a point in the second half.
Mayo came out in the second half and blitzed Dublin again for the first 15 minutes. O'Connor landed two frees on the bounce, Feeney kicked his point following a powerful drive, O'Connor showing nerves of ice from dead balls all day, kicked his third 45' and the Mayo crowd were on their feet and making phone calls to cousins and old friends looking for tickets for three weeks time. When Dillon kicked his third point of the day the deed looked to be done.
But Dublin weren't going to give up that easy and they slowly clawed their way back into the game as Mayo hit a bit of a wall and the loss of McLoughlin through a head injury proved to be a bridge that they were finding very hard to cross. Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan kept pulling the gap back in from placed balls and Paul Flynn also got in on the act. Michael Darragh McCauley put in huge effort for no reward over the seventy minutes. If Mayo were going to cling on they had to ensure they didn't concede a goal and twice Bernard Brogan got in to have efforts, once Chris Barrett put in a last ditch dive to block the effort and the only time he got beyond Ger Cafferkey for the whole day, David Clarke pulled off a top drawer save. When Clarke got down low to stop that Brogan effort you could sense it was going to be Mayo's day and despite five nervy minutes of injury time Mayo held on to to record the win. All that's left for them to do is get over another seventy minutes in three weeks time.
Mayo scorers: C O’Connor 0-07 (3 ’45, 3f ), A Dillon 0-03, K McLoughlin, E Varley (1f ) 0-02 each, B Moran, M Conroy, R Feeney, S O’Shea, J Doherty 0-01 each.
Dublin scorers: B Brogan 0-06 (6f ), C Kilkenny, S Cluxton (3 ’45 ) 0-03 each, D Connolly, P Flynn 0-02 each.
Mayo: D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Barrett; B Moran, A O'Shea; K McLoughlin, J Doherty, A Dillon; E Varley, C O'Connor, M Conroy. Subs: R Feeney for Keegan, A Freeman for Varley (blood ), C Boyle for McLoughlin (blood ), J Gibbons for Feeney, S McHale for Keane, McLoughlin for Doherty, S O’Shea for A O’Shea
Dublin: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, R O’Carroll, C O’Sullivan; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; E Fennell, D Bastick; P Flynn, MD Macauley, B Cullen; D Kilkenny, D Connolly, B Brogan. Subs:A Brogan for Cullen, P McMahon for Fitzsimons, E O’Gara for Bastick, K McMemamin for A Brogan