Had Jack McCaffrey’s late effort made its way between the posts at the end of a crazy, madcap, frantic and frenetic clash between last season’s All Ireland finalists to hand Dublin victory, it is doubtful Mayo supporters could have left Croke Park feeling any more deflated on Saturday night.
Somehow, someway, Mayo allowed fourteen man Dublin to snatch a draw in a game that the Green & Red seemed to, and realistically should, have wrapped up long before Cormac Reilly’s final whistle called a halt to proceedings.
Leading by six points by the 51st minute and by five points at the sixty-four minute mark, Mayo saw second half substitute Eoghan O’Gara rattle two goals to the net and salvage a draw that looked highly unlikely from the moment Stephen Cluxton received his marching orders in the first half.
The Dublin captain was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Kevin McLoughlin, and without their talisman between the sticks, Dublin’s challenge began to falter after a promising opening.
That opening had seen them register the first three scores of the game with Cluxton himself pointing a 45 before Paddy Andrews and Alan Brogan increased the lead.
Mayo came roaring back and Cillian O’Connor showed his strength and accuracy to hold off a would-be challenge and kick Mayo’s first point. Aidan O’Sé, dominant in the early stages set up Donal Vaughan for a point in the ninth minute and two quick points via an O’Connor free and Andy Moran handed Mayo the lead for the first time.
Paul Flynn responded for Dublin and as the play became stretched and both sides began to find space in the opposition back lines, Dublin hit their stride again with three consecutive points from Cormac Costello (2 ) and a revitalised Alan Brogan.
Mayo were looking threatening going forward but their shot selection was leaving a lot to be desired until Kevin McLoughlin ended ten scoreless minutes for the Connacht champions as he burst onto Alan Freeman’s knock-down and placed a low shot into the corner of Cluxton’s net.
Robert Hennelly kept the lead intact when he got down low to save on Kevin McManamon, but Costello then levelled matters with a well taken point for Dublin.
Moments later McLoughlin almost repaid the favour to Freeman with an assist but his straight-forward pass was agonisingly just too high and Dublin survived.
However, as Cluxton was preparing to take the subsequent goal kick he drew a quite unnecessary kick at McLoughlin and after a quick consultation with the umpires, referee Reilly sent the Parnells man off.
Dublin were rattled and they ended the half in disarray, allowing Mayo to steal a march with four point in three minutes before the interval. O’Connor, Keith Higgins. Vaughan and McLoughlin all escaped the clutches of the Dublin defence to compound their host’s numerical disadvantage and send them in at the break 1-9 to 0-8 ahead.
That lead was added to moments after the resumption via an O’Connor free but McManamon replied with a well taken point in the Hill.
McLoughlin and McManamon then exchanged scores before O’Connor and Costello swapped scores to keep Mayo with a four point cushion.
They had to rely on Hennelly to keep that advantage in the 49th minute when Kevin Nolan was allowed the freedom of the park but his shot was smothered by the Breaffy stopper.
Mayo made the most of that let-off to add two further points from O’Connor and substitute Mikey Sweeney. It seemed at that stage, with a six point lead and a man advantage that Mayo might coast to victory, but they were jolted out of their comfort zone when McManamon scored a brilliant goal, driving his shot over Hennelly and into the top corner of the net to pare the deficit back to three points.
Jason Gibbons hit back with a vital score as O’Sé was removed from the fray but Dublin kept fighting and two points in a row from Jason Whelan and Castlebar Mitchell’s tormentor in the All Ireland club final, Diarmuid Connolly.
Mayo responded positively and an Andy Moran pass set Jason Doherty free, but as the Burrishoole attacker rounded substitute goalkeeper Sean Currie the ball broke free of his grasp. Doherty regained possession and found the net but he was adjudged to have lifted it directly off the ground and the goal was rightfully disallowed.
As tensions rose and the clear enmity between the sides threatened to boil over with scuffles breaking out all around the field, the game entered its final ten minutes.
The game though seemed to be back in Mayo’s hands when McLoughlin intercepted a short kick-out intended for Rory O’Carroll and he slipped in Sweeney who blasted a superb shot to the roof of the net.
Mayo led by five, but Dublin came back swinging once again. Connolly pointed a free. Eoghan O’Gara made his presence felt when he finished a flowing team move under Hennelly. One point now separated the two rivals.
Gibbon’s fielded a massive catch from the restart which led to a cracking point for O’Connor and Mayo had some breathing space. Two minutes from the end of normal time O’Connor curled over a free and Mayo had a three point lead once again.
Again that seemed to be game set and match for James Horan’s men and they began to wind down the clock with a sustained period of keep-ball. Unfortunately however they failed to maintain their grip on the ball or the game, and Connolly forced a turnover that ended with O’Gara burying a shot into the top corner of the net and suddenly Mayo’s lead was wiped out.
Dublin won the kick-out, the ball fell to McCaffrey, and the Hill held their collective breathe as his shot just drifted wide of the post leaving Dublin’s fight back stalled just short of an extraordinary victory but both teams with a point each at the end of a remarkable seventy minutes.
Dublin: E O'Gara (2-0 ), A Brogan (0-2 ), D Connolly (0-2 ); K McManamon (1-2 ), C Costello (0-4, 1f ), S Cluxton (0-1, 1 45 ), P Flynn 0-1, P Andrews 0-1, J Whelan 0-1.
Mayo: C O'Connor (0-8, 5f ), K McLoughlin (1-3 ), M Sweeney (1-1 ), D Vaughan (0-2 ), J Gibbons (0-1 ); K Higgins (0-1 ), A Moran (0-1 ).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; J Cooper, R O'Carroll, D Daly; J McCarthy, T Brady, K Nolan; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, A Brogan, D Connolly; K McManamon, C Costello, P Andrews. Subs: J Whelan for Flynn (inj 27 ); S Currie for Brady (29 ); N Devereux for Andrews (ht ); J McCaffrey for O'Sullivan (ht ); D Nelson for McCarthy (51 ); E O'Gara for Daly (56 ).
MAYO: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferky, B Harrison; L Keegan, D Vaughan (0-2 ), C Boyle; A O'Shea, J Gibbons (0-1 ); K McLoughlin (1-3 ), K Higgins (0-1 ), J Doherty; A Moran (0-1 ), A Freeman, C O'Connor (0-8, 5f ). Subs: S McHale for Boyle (BC 20 ); D Drake for Harrison (HT ); M Sweeney (1-1 ) for Freeman (47 ); E Varley for Cafferky (57 ); T Parsons for A O'Shea (57 ); S O'Shea for Doherty (68 ).