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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 8 July, 2020

Mayo's true grit, more Dublin disappointment and Cork dual star's big decision

There were plenty of talking points from this afternoon’s EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football semi-finals in Tullamore.

1. Mayo show true grit

Conor Loftus Conor Loftus was Mayo's matchwinner (file pic). Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Far too often down through the years, we’ve seen Mayo teams fail to take the final step when a big game is in the melting pot.

Not so today, as they extricated themselves from a sticky position against Dublin to set up a final with Cork on 30 April.

The Westerners led by six points at half-time but were four down with 12 minutes left before they rallied again.

Kudos to Conor Loftus for levelling matters in stoppage time, before he nailed a winning point with another ice-cool free.

Referee Niall Cullen wasn’t flavour of the month with one irate Dublin fan who had to be restrained by stewards as he tried to enter the pitch, but Mayo were also denied a couple of blatant second half frees.

And as the saying goes, these things tend to have a habit of balancing themselves out and Cullen drew the ire of both sets of fans throughout with some of his decision-making.

2. Semi-final heartbreak for Dublin again

Dessie Farrell Dublin boss Dessie Farrell suffered All-Ireland U21 semi-final heartbreak again today.

Twelve months ago, Dublin lost to Tipperary at the same O’Connor Park venue and there was semi-final heartbreak for Dessie Farrell’s Sky Blues yet again today.

They were in a decent position down the home stretch but Mayo’s late surge proved too much to cope with.

It was a bad start and a bad finish that cost Dublin as they found themselves seven points adrift before scorer in chief Con O’Callaghan finally got them off the mark.

O’Callaghan, Michael Deegan and Colm Basquel led the second half charge for Dublin, with Eoin Murchan coming off the bench to make a positive impact, but it was another disappointing day for the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland series.

When Mayo were in command, Dublin were overrun in the middle third of the field, with the pace and power of the Westerners proving too much to cope with at various spells.

3. Dual decision for Cork’s man of the match

Matthew Flaherty and Sean O'Donoghue Sean O'Donoghue in action against Kerry in the Munster final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It was a brilliant afternoon for Cork’s Seán O’Donoghue, who scored 0-4 for the Rebels in victory over Monaghan.

All in all, it was a productive afternoon for the Cork attack, as the starting six provided 2-13 from play from a winning tally of 2-15.

And yet the All-Ireland final against Mayo, according to some observers, could be O’Donoghue’s last as a footballer for the county.

Inniscarra is renowned as hurling country in Cork and O’Donoghue’s club operate in the premier intermediate ranks at club level, with the footballers in the junior grade.

O’Donoghue was recently called into the county senior hurling panel by manager Kieran Kingston and a dual mandate may not be an option for this talented individual.

4. A little bit of history repeating

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Back in 1981, when Cork and Monaghan met previously in an All-Ireland U21 football semi-final, Sean Hayes lined out in attack for the Rebels.

35 years later, Hayes donned the Bainisteoir bib as the counties met again, with Cork doing enough to book a final place.

Hayes was also in charge two years ago when Cork lost an All-Ireland semi-final to Roscommon, and also in 2015 when his charges were edged out by Tipperary in the Munster decider.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again is the Hayes motto and slowly but surely, his men have built up a head of steam in this competition.

Having seen off Kerry in the Munster final, this was another daunting assignment for Cork but they passed with flying colours to put themselves in sight of a first All-Ireland title in this grade since 2009.

5. Big guns step up to the plate

Diarmuid O'Connor hails Mayo's win at full-time. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Diarmuid O’Connor, young Footballer of the Year in 2015, worked like a yard-dog for the Mayo cause this afternoon.

He picked off 1-1 in the first half, covered every blade of grass and won the two frees that allowed Conor Loftus to equalise in injury time, before the same player converted the winner.

As a show of leadership, this was inspirational stuff from O’Connor who continued to carry the fight to Dublin even when the Sky Blues were on top.

Similarly, another much-vaunted young player did well for Cork, without shooting the lights out as he’s capable of.  

Peter Kelleher netted a goal and provided an attacking fulcrum against Monaghan, allowing diminutive forwards like Seán Powter and Michael Hurley to get close to the opposition square and feed off any scraps that came their way, which they did to good effect.

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Cork overcome Monaghan to set up EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football final with Mayo

Late Loftus points stuns Dublin as Mayo book first All-Ireland U21 final in a decade

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