OUTSIDE the warm glow of beating Cork in last year’s All-Ireland qualifiers, this was unquestionably Mayo’s finest performance under manager James Horan, whose team wiped the ground with All-Ireland champions Dublin, who just didn’t know what hit them at Elverys McHale Park on Saturday evening. League semi-final place still on for Horan’s men - Mayo 0-20 .. Dublin 0-8
The fog had descended last February when this first round tie had to be abandoned. The feeling then, and a well-founded one at that, was that Mayo would be well beaten and the fog was a blessing in disguise.
What has happened to these two sides in the meantime can be best left to the psychologists, but whatever it is, Mayo should keep taking it, and in large doses.
After losing three games on the bounce, Mayo have come back in spectacular style to muscle their way back into contention for a place in the top four.
That will be decided in Tralee this Sunday, and indeed at other grounds next weekend, when the final act in this national league drama is played out, but, for the moment, it might be no harm to savour some of the fine football and the magnificent scores witnessed by a crowd of over 12,000 on a sun-blessed evening in McHale Park.
Where this performance came from was the question on the lips of most supporters after this game, but perhaps it was one they owed to themselves and knew they had in them after some disastrous displays, notably against Down and Donegal.
Undoubtedly the return of the suspended Aiden O’Shea helped matters around the middle of the park, where Andy Moran was always willing to give a dig out and Danny Geraghty put in a big shift, but it was Mayo’s application and their hunger and domination all over the pitch that saw them win by an unflattering 12 points.
The forwards, notably Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer and Michael Conroy, nailed some magnificent points, many from distance.
The defence was outstanding, Shane McHale stepping into the shoes of the absent Ger Cafferkey and looking like a player who had won several All-Ireland medals, but all six backs performed brilliantly, as the Dublin scoreline would indicate.
But the secret to Mayo’s success in this game was the opening 10 minutes, when they blitzed Dublin off the field, and not even the loss of two men, the first early in the second half when Paul Flynn saw a straight red, had a bearing on the outcome as Mayo played with the throttle out for the 70 minutes.
Michael Conroy had two early points from play as Dublin were held to just a single score in the opening 12 minutes.
Dillon, with two, and Conor Mortimer, with a gem on his left, had Mayo 0-5 to 0-1 clear and although Paddy Andrew pulled one back for Dublin, Mayo were nine clear on 32 minutes.
Mortimer, who surpassed Joe Corcoran’s all-time scoring record for Mayo on the night, pulled two more from his repertoire, one better than the other, and then added a free before Dillon, Conroy, Mortimer, again, and Barry Moran ended a spellbinding 13-minute period when they scored seven unanswered points to go 0-13 to 0-3 ahead.
Dublin pared back two before the break and might have had a goal but for David Clarke’s brilliant stop to deny Bryan Cullen.
Trailing 0-13 to 0-5, Dublin needed to hit the ground running for the second half but the Connaught champions, as they did at the start, jumped the starting gun, and Dublin were hit with three rapid points, two from the magnificent Vaughan, as Mayo shot 11 clear.
When Flynn was dismissed after a tangle on the ground with Vaughan the fear that the 14-man syndrome might come back to haunt Mayo was soon dispelled, Dillon and Conroy topping up matters up. And when Connolly left the scene with 10 minutes remaining, the game and the points had been long put to bed and the trip down south already being planned.
Scorers for Mayo C. Mortimer 0-8 (6f), A. Dillon, M. Conroy 0-4 each, D. Vaughan 0-2, A. O'Shea and B. Moran 0-1each.
Dublin: B. Cullen, T. Quinn (2f) 0-2 each, P. Andrews, G. Brennan, D. Connolly (f), D. Rock 0-1 each.
Mayo: D. Clarke, K. Keane, K. Higgins, L. Keegan, D. Vaughan, C. Boyle, A. O'Shea, D. Geraghty, K. McLoughlin, A. Moran, A. Dillon, C. Mortimer, B. Moran, M. Conroy (player missing?????????.
Subs used: J. Doherty for B. Moran (58m), P. Gardiner for Vaughan (63m), C O'Connor for Conroy (63m), J. Gibbons for Geraghty (66m), A. Campbell for Dillon (66m).
Dublin: S. Cluxton, D. Daly, R. O'Carroll, G. Brennan, J. McCarthy, C. O'Sullivan, K. Nolan, R. McConnell, M.D. MacAuley, P. Brogan, P. Andrews, B. Cullen, T. Quinn, D. Connolly, K. McManamon.
Subs used: P. Flynn for Brogan (26m), C. Dias for McCarthy (35m), E. Fennell for McConnell (35m, D. Kelly for Quinn (46m), D. Rock for Andrews (53m).
Referee: J. Gilmartin (Sligo).
Man of the match
IT’S not too often there is a queue of players for the man of the match selection and, in truth, you could have given it to any of the players involved in this victory.
However, Shane McHale was stepping into fairly big shoes in the absence of Ger Cafferkey, who was excused to attend a family wedding.
The Knockmore man was up against Diarmuid Connolly, a man who has been known to score goals for fun and usually doesn’t settle for less than three at a time.
He finished the game with a pointed free and was sent off on a double yellow card. McHale grew into this game as it wore on, showing coolness and experience that belies his years.
THE big talking point in this game was the name of the farrier the Mayo forwards attended to have their shooting boots straightened.
Some of the points were out of this world and from distance, Alan Dillon, Michael Conroy and Conor Mortimer entertaining an audience who gave the players a standing ovation.
What a contrast from Ballyshannon, and long may it continue.
THE screw was turned on Dublin in the first five minutes of the second half.
You’d have expected the all-Ireland champions to come out with all guns blazing to attack an interval deficit of 0-13 to 0-5 but instead it was Mayo who tore into it, with three rapid-fire points, two from the inspirational Donal Vaughan.
The game was long over before the first Dublin player, Paul Flynn, saw a straight red on 43 minutes and totally over when Diarmuid Connolly left the scene on a second yellow 10 minutes from time.
THERE could be a carnival atmosphere in Tralee on Sunday. The Kerry boys are sitting on top of the table and have already qualified so I suspect Jack O’Connor will not be sending out his strongest army.
A win would put Mayo back into the frame for the qualifiers, depending, of course, on how the other results pan out. However, if it comes down to scoring difference then Mayo’s 20 points against Dublin could yet prove crucial in dragging them through.