“At half time we said we’d nothing to lose and to just go out there and have a go” Mayo manger Frank Browne said in the immediate aftermath of his sides heart breaking All Ireland semi-final loss in Cavan on Saturday night.
He was right at the break they had nothing to lose, they were six points down and taking on water in a number of positions as a Dublin side looked poised to put the foot down and run out comfortable winners. Three minutes into the second half Dublin had pushed that lead out to eight points and the signs weren’t looking good at all, but that was only the start of it, as this game was about to catch fire and the imagination of anyone watching it at home or in the Ulster venue.
Dublin were out of the blocks quickly right from the throw in and with five minutes gone on the stop watch they were three points to the good with Sinead Aherne who picked up a deserved player of the game award kicking two and Carla Rowe adding the other. Dublin dropped back a sweeper from the off with Cora Staunton being double and triple marked at times and the Mayo defence took a while to figure out what to do with their extra player back with Martha Carter playing the free role in the first half, before Rachael Kearns taking over that job in the second half to great effect.
Mayo got their first score on the board through a Staunton free with 24 minutes left in the half. This may have been Cora’s 22nd championship season and she admitted herself she took a good while to decide if she was coming back again this year, but her class shone through once more at the top level. This was no ‘raging against the dying of the light’ from someone who was trying to recapture better days, despite being double marked all day she was a constant thorn in Dublin’s side kicking eight points over the hour and causing havoc when she got the ball every time.
But things just weren’t going Mayo’s way in the first half and points from Healy and Sinead Goldrick had the lead stretched out to 0-4 to 0-1 with 19 minutes still left on the clock. Things got even worse not long after when Aherne found the back of the net , Niamh McEvoy won a high ball in and the ball was worked to the St Sylvester’s ace who finished from close range despite the best efforts of Yvonne Byrne in the Mayo goal.
Aherne's goal came just on the back of a great chance for a Mayo goal when Grace Kelly and Sarah Rowe combined down the right flank, but Rowe’s effort under pressure was well saved by Ciara Trant in the Dublin goal. Mayo did respond well to the goal and reeled off three points on the bounce with Aileen Gilroy kicking two great scores in within 60 seconds of each other and Staunton adding another from a free with ten minutes left in the half, just minutes after she had seen another dead ball from 45m bounce up off the top of the crossbar and away to safety.
Marked woman: Cora Staunton was double marked all day. Photo: Sportsfile.
But all that good work looked to be undone nine minutes from the break when Aherne got in for her second goal of the day. Mayo tired to work a short kick out, but got turned over inside their own 45 and Dublin were away, the ball was played to Aherne who was forced wide by Byrne who came out to meet her, but she still had the ability to skip the challenge and finish low to the back of the net. She added another point to Dublin’s tally not long after from a free to put here side eight clear with six minutes left in the half.
Mayo did close in the gap to six at the break thanks to two Staunton frees, but it looked like a task that was well beyond them as Dublin looked to be the much better side, even if some sloppy Mayo play did assist Dublin in getting both of their goals.
Four mintues into the second half the game looked done for sure when Dublin tagged on the first two points, but Mayo refused to bend the knee and they went for it, throwing caution to the wind and attacking from all positions, pinning the Dublin defence back and causing havoc whenever they moved the ball into the attacking zone.
Grace Kelly gambled and went to intercept a pass that if she missed would have seen her out of the play and Dublin breaking at speed down the wing, the gamble paid off and she cut in form the right to fire over Mayo’s first score of the half with 25 minutes still left on the clock. Mayo followed that up with a Staunton point from play after Sarah Rowe worked hard to keep the ball from going out over the endline before the ball was worked back to the Carancon ace. The gam was back to a six pointer and if Mayo could get a goal it would really put the cat among the pigeons, Staunton pointed a free and it was really game on. On the ten minute mark she did find the back of the net, but was legitimately called back for over carrying before she pulled the trigger. Gilroy went close with a long range free and Staunton converted another placed ball with 17 minutes left and the gap was only four and Mayo were gaining belief. She kicked another free from 40m and there was just the goal in it with 16 minutes left on the countdown clock.
Looking to break through: Rachel Kearns got Mayo's goal. Photo: Sportsfile
That goal duly arrived and in it came in some style, Mayo turned over Dublin on the right hand side of the field and the ball was worked from Grace Kelly to Rachel Kearns who was flying past her in support the McHale Rovers girl on the run left fly with an almighty shot that flew into the bottom left hand corner and it was all level. Mayo’s chances were dealt a serious blow shortly after when Aileen Gilroy was sent to the sin-bin with what looked like a very harsh call, especially going by the challenges that had gone before and some of them that would come later on that weren’t deemed yellow card offences.
The game ebbed and flowed, up and down the field as both sides failed to take a few chances to edge in front. Dublin finally did with six minutes to go when Nicole Owen’s finished neatly from close range under pressure. But Mayo went straight back down the field and sub Carol Hegarty held her nerve to score under pressure to tie it up.
Mayo had another couple of chances to edge in front from long range frees and a 45’ but they just wren’t able to get that score the needed. Then with time almost up, Aherne stood up and was counted at the death. Dublin won a free from an acute angle on the left hand side and even with the hooter sounding as she struck the ball she held her nerve and the ball dropped over the bar to send Dublin in to their third All Ireland final in a row and break Mayo hearts.
This bunch of girls lost a game of football, that for 30 minutes in the second half captured the imagination like any great game, that’s all they lost. But in the heart, fight and grit they showed over that last 30 minutes they gained so much more.
Mayo:C Staunton (0-8, 6f ), R Kearns (1-0 ), A Gilroy (0-2 ), C Hegarty (0-1 ), G Kelly (0-1 )
Dublin: S Aherne (2-6, 3f ), S Goldrick (0-1 ), N Healy (0-1 ), C Rowe (0-1 ), N Owens (0-1 )
Mayo: Y Byrne; L Ryder, S Tierney, R Kearns (1-0 ); M Corbett, M Carter, O Conlon; F McHale, C McManamon; G Kelly, A Gilroy, D Hughes; S Rowe, C Staunton, N Kelly.
Subs: C Hegarty for McManamon (43 mins ), S Howley for Hughes (51 mins ), D Caldwell for Kelly (56 mins ).
Dublin: C Trant; O Carey, D Murphy, L Caffrey; S Goldrick, S Finnegan, N Collins; L Magee, S Furlong; N Healy, M Lamb, C Rowe; N McEvoy, S Aherne, L Davey.
Subs: N Owens for Rowe (41 mins ), S Woods for McEvoy (47 mins ), M Ní Scanaill for Murphy (50 mins ), F Hudson for Caffrey (52 mins ), L Collins for Finnegan (56 mins ).
Referee: B Rice (Down )