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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
# missed chance
'Bullied' Mayo pass up golden opportunity to reap psychological rewards of win over Dublin
Rob Hennelly’s performance was one of the few bright notes for Mayo.

Kevin O’Brien reports from Croke Park

DUBLIN HAVE NEVER failed to reach a league final during Jim Gavin’s tenure in charge.

Despite suffering two defeats in their opening three games, the All-Ireland champions put themselves back in the hunt for the Division 1 title with an easier than expected win against Mayo last night.

James Horan during the game. Morgan Treacy / INPHO James Horan during the game. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Gavin has faced the Westerners 14 times over the course of his reign and his record now stands at 11 wins, three draws and zero defeats. Mayo’s last competitive win over Dublin arrived in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final.

They lost All-Ireland finals to the Dubs in 2013, 2016 and 2017.

No other county have come as close to toppling the Dubs in the championship than Mayo, but James Horan’s side passed up an opportunity to gain a valuable victory over their rivals at this stage of the season.

Granted, last night’s eight-point defeat won’t count for much if the sides lock horns later in the summer. But the psychological boost of inflicting a competitive defeat on Dublin was passed up in a tepid display by Mayo.

A Mayo victory would have effectively ruled Dublin out of contention for the league title – a prospect that rarely looked on the cards.  

They lacked the sort of aggression they typically bring to encounters with Dublin. The biggest hit Mayo dished out all night was on an unsuspecting umpire who was left prone on the ground after Colm Boyle crashed into him unintentionally. 

When Horan was reappointed, one of the first dates he’d have circled on his calendar was this clash with Dublin. He was extremely downbeat in the post-match press conference, clearly seething with his side’s performance. 

The stats make for worrying reading: goalkeeper Rob Hennelly finished as their joint-top scorer, they scored just once from play in the first-half and twice from play in the second, their front six contributed a grand total of 0-3 between them and their shooting was atrocious.

“I just thought we were tentative and we stood off right from the start,” said Horan.

“We didn’t have any composure, we had 18 or so attacks in the first-half and we gave 11 turnovers out of 18. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you play like we started tonight you’ll get beaten.

A dejected Matthew Ruane after the game Morgan Treacy / INPHO Matthew Ruane leaves the field after the game. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“Dublin, on the opposite side, were very good. They were physical, bullied us a little bit and that was it, as simple as that. We got what we deserved. We were probably lucky we didn’t get beaten by more.

“I just thought we were a little bit off it today, we were off the pitch of it, if you keep giving turnovers away like I just said, you’re going to be under pressure.

“I thought our one-on-one defending was very good considering the amount of turnovers we gave. There’s always a reason for one on one defending like that, we just gave the ball away too much. We were the authors of our own doom there.”

After a blistering start to the league, this was Mayo’s first no-show in Horan’s second coming. If it wasn’t for Hennelly’s brilliance between the posts, Dublin could have hit four or five goals.

There was an interesting contrast between both warm-ups pre-game. Mayo’s preparations featured plenty of intense small-sided tackling games. Dublin’s was more focused on the skills of the game – kick passing and shooting.

When it came to the game, Mayo shot 14 wides and dropped another four shots into Evan Comerford’s hands. Their pre-game intensity deserted them and Dublin were allowed coast to victory without playing particularly well themselves.

“We were poor, we hadn’t conviction in our shots,” said Horan. “We had 20-something shots, any stats you want, but when you’re a little bit off all those stats go. We had men off the field for 20 minutes as well, that didn’t help, all that stuff added up.

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“We were off with a lot of little things and that added up to us getting a fairly comprehensive beating tonight.

Jason Doherty reacts after missing a penalty Morgan Treacy / INPHO Jason Doherty reacts after missing a penalty. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“Some of the shots we took weren’t the right shots and then I don’t know did we fully commit to some of the shots. We were hoping they’d go over as opposed to getting a really strong, good connection on it.

“We’ll have a chat about it and we’ll move on very quickly with the learnings from it. We have a game against Galway next weekend. We’ll move on quickly.”

Coming off the back of losses to Monaghan and Kerry, Dublin were vulnerable heading into this game. They’re a good six weeks behind Mayo in physical preparations and are a long way off where they need to be in terms of match sharpness and their overall slickness.

Kerry enjoyed the good vibes brought about by their victory over Dublin and it has helped build an optimism that they can legitimately challenge for the All-Ireland this summer.

A first victory over Dublin in seven years would have been a major boost to Mayo’s self-esteem, particularly for their younger guard. Instead, they slumped to a drab loss.

The Connacht side failed to once test the Dublin full-back line that looked under duress at stages in Tralee in the previous round. Aidan O’Shea spent little if any time at the edge of the square and there were few marauding runs from the experienced half-back line of Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Paddy Durcan.

Their build-up play was slow and predictable. It meant Andy Moran had to survive on dinked passes that sent him scampering into the corners. Brian Reape, the highly-rated young full-forward, had a woeful night of shooting and looked completely devoid of confidence by the finish.

Evan Comerford and Con O'Callaghan with Ciaran Treacy Morgan Treacy / INPHO Evan Comerford and Con O'Callaghan with Ciaran Treacy. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Hennelly’s display was one of the few positives Mayo will take out of yesterday. He scored two points from placed balls and pulled off six saves to deny Dublin further green flags. It was a landmark game for the Breaffy man – his first start at Croke Park since the 2016 All-Ireland final reply when Stephen Rochford’s decision to play him backfired.

This display will give him confidence and having started three of their four league games to date, Hennelly stands a real chance of usurping two-time All-Star David Clarke for the number one role. 

It’s believed Horan looks favourably on Hennelly’s superior speed and ability at kick-outs, while his free-taking from distance is a major plus. 

And Hennelly’s opposite number Evan Comerford also enjoyed a strong game. Kerry broke down his restarts last weekend but Comerford’s kick-outs were pinpoint against Mayo.

He looked composed under the few high balls that came his way and saved Jason Doherty’s penalty in the first-half. 

“Evan has been playing well,” said Jim Gavin. “All the goalkeepers are working really hard on their game so very pleased for him.”

It could be his last start for a while though. 37-year-old Stephen Cluxton was part of Dublin’s matchday panel for the first time today and is likely to return to the starting line-up for next weekend’s trip to Dr Hyde Park.

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