For those of you who have ever been to Old Trafford to watch Man Utd I am sure you are familiar with the song about “never dying” in honour of the club’s resurrection after the tragic Munich Air disaster. I know there has not been such a tragedy in Mayo football terms but such a song would be very appropriate about Michael Solan’s Mayo u21 team. They never give up. They never die.
Before talking about the game I want to give a small indication of how special a win this was and how the Mayo u21 football team refused to surrender under extreme circumstances when it looked like they had given their all but came up short against a rampant Dublin team in the second half in Tullamore. To summarise, Mayo were cruising at half time, they were in total control yet they surrendered a six point lead to go four down with 10 minutes to go (that is a 10 point swing in lay man terms ), only to miraculously get the energy to claw their way back into the game when everything was going against them and snatch it at the end with a Conor Loftus free four minutes into injury time. I struggled to breathe and hold my composure live on radio as I could not believe what I was witnessing, this was perseverance of the highest order, this was special, very special.
First half masterclass
Mayo came out of the traps quick smart and were on top of Dublin all over the field in that first period. Dangerous Dublin forward Con O’Callaghan being well marshalled by fullback Seamus Cuniffee, if O’Callaghan got inside Cuniffe, Michael Hall and Michael Plunket were there to bail him out. Defensively Mayo were in total control in the first half. Up the other end things were working out nicely as well. Mayo raced into a 1-04 to nil lead after 11 minutes, the Dubs were shell shocked, Diarmuid O’Connor’s sublime palmed goal from a Liam Irwin lay off was the highlight for Mayo. It was great composure from O’Connor as Dublin keeper Lorcan Molloy raced off his line to kill all angles only for O’Connor to loft the ball over him. Conor Loftus, after a poor showing in the Connacht final, played with real desire and intent and got on loads of ball. Dublin simply had no answer to a rampant Mayo outfit who attacked from every angle, Shaorize Akram, Fergal Boland, Stephen Coen and Fionan Duffy and O’Connor all raised white flags in the opening period. If I were to have any critique of the first half it was that Mayo should have been further ahead than six points such was their dominance.
Standing up when it is needed most
You always felt Dublin would have a kick in them and whatever Dessie Farrell said to his team at the break it had the desired effect. When Con O’Callaghan levelled with a well taken goal on 40 minutes Mayo were in real trouble and looked destined for defeat as Dublin had most definitely turned the screw. Although quiet by his standards in the first half, Ballyboden forward Colm Basquel and Michael Deegan wreaked havoc in the Mayo defence in the second period. For me the game was over as a contest when Dublin went four points up with just 10 minutes left to play. I announced that a goal was most definitely required for Mayo to have any hope, what did I know? What ensued for those final 10 minutes was something I was privileged to witness. Mayo got life from somewhere, unexplainable renewed energy rarely seen before. The charge was led by Diarmuid O’Connor who was given special attention in the second half, Dessie Farrell realised how dangerous O’Connor was and issued his centre forward Brian Howard to be his shadow, it looked like Howard had broken O’Connor’s spirit but he rose like a phoenix to give his last ounce for his team. Some real composure from Liam Irwin from placed balls along with one excellent point from play were crucial, Matthew Ruane’s inspiring levelling point had me hopping off the roof of the press box. Who can forget James Carr’s lung busting run through the heart of the Dublin defence to get fouled for an Irwin free. The final say was left to Conor Loftus, his winning free was far from simple, made a lot more difficult by the occasion and the time on the clock. He showed nerves of steel to win the game for Mayo. Everyone around wanted extra time such was the spectacle, not me, a one point win would do nicely. It was an amazing game, an amazing performance. Mayo do not know how to surrender, they never die.
The man in black
Just a note on referee Niall Cullen, as much as I like the reiteoir to go unnoticed in a game, Cullen was constantly booed by both sets of supporters which can only suggest he had a nightmare game, some of his decisions were mind boggling to say the least. There were unsavoury scenes at the end when a supporter had to be restrained by stewards, I presume it was a Dublin supporter.