Dublin: 12°C Sunday 26 June 2022

The importance of Diarmuid O'Connor's kick, a rare Dublin defeat and Mayo's young guns

A dramatic and pulsating night in Croke Park.

colm-boyle-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle-with-stephen-coen Mayo players celebrate their success. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

1. The importance of Diarmuid O’Connor’s kick

He’s only 26 but Diarmuid O’Connor is by now a vastly experienced operator for Mayo. It’s hard to imagine he has produced a greater and more important kick for his county, than his 63rd minute effort. It wasn’t a shot or a pass but it was a critical intervention by O’Connor, refusing to quit on a Robert Hennelly free that was tailing wide, stretching desperately to keep the ball in play.

The Ballintubber man did just that to meet the ball in mid air and keep the attack alive, with Kevin McLoughlin gathering and floating over a fine point. Consider the context. Mayo trailed 0-12 to 0-7 at that stage, hadn’t scored in the third quarter and Dublin had reasserted their authority on the game once more. The point gave Mayo the impetus they needed, having scored seven points over 63 minutes, they would fire six more in the 14 minutes of action that followed in normal time.

diarmuid-oconnor-and-brian-fenton Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

2. Dublin’s 45-game unbeaten run comes to an end

It had to happen at some stage but Dublin’s powerful rule over the Gaelic football landscape has generated an extraordinary unbeaten run. After six consecutive All-Ireland wins, there will be a new national champion in 2021. After 42 wins and three draws, Dublin discovered what it is like to lose a game in the championship arena.

Of the 21 players Dublin used in their 2014 defeat to Donegal, only Michael Fitzsimons, Philly McMahon, Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy, Cormac Costello and Dean Rock played some part last night. Ciaran Kilkenny did play back in 2012 when Mayo overturned Dublin, missing out with a cruciate injury in 2014.

But for the rest of their squad, this was a new experience. Brian Fenton had emerged as their streak of dominance commenced in 2015, his personal unbeaten record has frequently been held up as a stat to illustrate Dublin’s control. They have been wonderful champions and their greatness is long assured. It is a seismic result to see the kingpins toppled.

james-horan-and-james-mccarthy James Horan and James McCarthy after the game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Mayo’s remarkable comeback

Down by seven points in the 35th minute, trailing by six at half-time, in arrears by five in the 63rd minute. The most remarkable thing about Mayo’s victory was how they had to fight so hard to claw their way back into the game, chipping away gradually at Dublin’s advantage throughout the second half. They looked in such a sticky situation in the first half as they chased the game that their revival was hugely impressive. 

Mayo’s guts and will to fight served them well in firing the comeback. They got the scoring touch going up front but in ways it was a defiant display rooted in the contributions of those further back the pitch. Robert Hennelly has had his moments of trauma in Croke Park, he stood up magnificently to nail three placed balls while his kickouts gave them a crucial platform.

Man-of-the-match Padraig O’Hora had to wait until the age of 27 for his Mayo senior breakthrough but this was a milestone performance in the manner in which he quietened Kilkenny as the match unfolded. Alongside him was Lee Keegan, one of the survivors from Mayo’s dramatic decade that is still involved, and he was immense defensively while also notching an excellent 51st minute point.

oisin-mullin-celebrates-after-the-game-with-caidan-and-nila Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

4. Mayo’s young guns take charge

Mayo’s squad has had a wealth of experience removed through retirements over the last few years, James Horan has managed the transition brilliantly and is aided by the emergence of some brilliant young guns. They took charge, particularly the twin threat of Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy who have helped Mayo cope with the injury-enforced absensce of their influential leader Cillian O’Connor. 

O’Donoghue may have missed a couple of early scores but he finished with 0-5, notched a mark in the first half when Mayo really required a point and nailed two further stylish shots from play. Conroy was quiet for long stages but when Mayo’s need was greatest, he stepped up considerably with points in the 69th, 73rd and 75th minutes, his electrifying style of play causing problems for Dublin’s rearguard.

Conroy and O’Donoghue both started on the Mayo team that contested the All-Ireland U20 final in 2018 against Kildare, their emergence to the senior setup has been timely. Jordan Flynn also lined out in that game and bagged a point when he came on last night.

Exclusive NZ - IRE
Rugby Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella's match analysis and Garry Doyle's updates from New Zealand exclusive to members

Become a Member

enda-hession-celebrates-with-family-and-friends Enda Hession celebrates with family and friends. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Oisin Mullin and Enda Hession were both on the Mayo U20 team in 2020, Mullin was outstanding for the senior team last winter and looked a big loss when injury ruled him out here, while Hession did come on in the first half, making a massive impact with his driving runs as he accelerated towards the Dublin half.

5. Dublin lose their way badly after half-time

The strange aspect of the game was how Dublin looked to have hit the nail on the head with their first-half performance. It was controlled, they were methodical in their build-up play and looked comfortable in dictating the tempo of the game. Ciarán Kilkenny and Dean Rock seemed sharp up front, Brian Fenton was anchoring the team at midfield.

To lose their way so badly after the break was hard to fathom. Dublin’s discipline fell apart, three players sin-binned before the end, while they coughed up cheap frees. Their use of possession was unusually sloppy with poor passses leading to turnovers. 

dean-rock-dejected-after-the-game A dejected Dean Rock after the match. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The bench, so long a source of power, could not ignite their charge on this occasion. Most of all, the scores dried up to a striking extent. Kilkenny’s point in the 35th minute nudged Dublin ahead 0-10 to 0-4. Including injury-time, there was a further 68 minutes played in the game and Dublin only mustered four points in that time frame.

6. A magical night for Mayo football but can they complete the task?

The emotion in the stands and on the pitch at the final whistle, from all those associated with Mayo football spoke volumes. Sending the champions to the exit door was always going to be a huge moment but particularly when it was Mayo who achieved that after all their suffering at the hands of Dublin since 2012. This was no ordinary All-Ireland semi-final, the manner of the win and the stature of the opposition, certainly enhanced that.

james-horan-during-the-game Mayo boss James Horan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But it was only a semi-final. After the euphoria has faded, James Horan will quickly get his players tuned in for the next target. That is the important one, another final where they will try to land the prize the county has been chasing since 1951. This result will create huge momentum for them yet the twist in the storyline is the uncertainty over the other semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone. Clarity over that fixture and the final date will be needed soon.

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel