JIM GAVIN WOULDN’T admit as much afterwards, but Dublin’s third-quarter showing was about as good a 12-minute spell as we’ve ever witnessed from his team.

Ciaran Kilkenny, Con O’Callaghan, Brian Fenton and Paul Mannion.

Source: Inpho

It’s no easy feat to turn things around after so many players appeared to be performing way below their usual level. 

When the tide turned after they trailed by two half-time, it was Dublin’s big-game players that stood up. Ciaran Kilkenny, who had endured a relatively quiet start on Colm Boyle, provided the pass for all three second-half goals.

Con O’Callaghan raised two green flags with flashes of brilliance, Paul Mannion popped up with 0-5 from six shots at the posts and Brian Fenton ghosted forward for 1-1 in the final 10 minutes to put the final nail in Mayo’s coffin. 

“Their game intelligence is really high, and we put all the trust in them,” said Jim Gavin afterwards.

“We empower them, we can’t play as a coaching and management team. We can’t play the game for them, we just give them the framework and they go out and execute their skillset. It’s up to them to go out and do that, so this is very much a player-driven team, make no mistake about it.”

Kilkenny, O’Callaghan, Fenton, Mannion and Jack McCaffrey are the offensive heartbeat of this side. Keep two or three of them under wraps and you’ve got a chance of beating Dublin, but therein lies the challenge.

Jack McCaffrey takes on Paddy Durcan.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

McCaffrey endured a quiet afternoon. His runs from deep were effectively plugged by Paddy Durcan. Durcan’s season is over but he remains in with a good shout to win an All-Star after holding both McCaffrey and Ryan McHugh scoreless in his last two games, while contributing five points of his own.

Lee Keegan looked to have the measure of O’Callaghan, but the Cuala star was ruthless when the goal chances came his way after half-time.

Flummoxed by Mayo’s crowding of midfield and Aidan O’Shea playing as effectively a sweeper, Dublin’s attack stuttered early on. They had just three points from play on the board in the opening 35 minutes and they’d turned the ball over 10 times, many of them after being swallowed up by tigerish Mayo defenders.

“I don’t know how many times people need to see how good this Mayo team are,” Gavin continued.

“They didn’t win today but I think we wouldn’t see it that way. Definitely. They’re a phenomenal group of players. I think you’re just looking for excuses for the Dublin performance, Mayo were really top class in the first half.”

As they’ve done so often in the past, Dublin’s key men stood up in a major way when the game called for leaders.

Less than two minutes after the restart, Kilkenny received a ball from Mannion near the sideline inside the 45 and played a looping handpass into O’Callaghan, who benefited from Keegan’s costly slip. 

The Cuala star finished low into the bottom corner, the same one he’d roll his second goal into nine minutes later. The latter three-pointer arrived via Kilkenny’s long delivery from a 60m free.

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Con O’Callaghan celebrates his second goal.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Bulked up with a shaved head this year, he’s no longer the new kid on the block. He’s mean and clearly loves the physical stuff – O’Callaghan made sure to get right up into Keegan’s face after he scored both goals.

By that stage the Mayo ship was leaking water and sensing blood, Dublin hemmed them in. Fenton fetched two long Rob Hennelly kick-outs and Mannion curled over a couple of huge points from distance.

When the Raheny midfielder received a Kilkenny pass and bombed through for Dublin’s third goal in the 61st minute, Mayo’s day was done.

Matthew Ruane, making his first start after returning from a broken collarbone, had tracked Fenton’s runs up to that point and enjoyed a decent first-half. But Ruane started to look worn down by the relentless running and Fenton did the damage on the home straight.

“We are very much on their coat-tails and they are leading this themselves,” Gavin said of his players.

“Our role in all of this is just to enable them and empower them to be their best, and if we can do that, no matter who you come up against that’s all you can ask for.

“We’ve really done our job there, so we just ask them to keep doing what they are doing, trust their skillset and back themselves on it.”

It’s been two years since Dublin last had a test of this magnitude. And it was the attacking play of Kilkenny, O’Callaghan, Fenton and Mannion that put Mayo on the back foot. They struck a series of body blows, each one more devastating than the last. 

Con O’Callaghan collides with Rob Hennelly.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

O’Callaghan shipped a heavy knock to the head after a late collision with Hennelly and showed signs of that hit as he left the field in stoppage-time. But his work was long done by that stage.

The last team to go this close to the five-in-a-row, the Kilkenny hurlers, were also known for their tendency to dispatch opponents in the period after half-time. Even they would have been proud of the clinical and composed nature of Dublin’s impressive turnaround.

A penny for the thoughts of the Kerry and Tyrone players as they watched the second-half demolition from their hotel rooms in the capital.

“Semi-finals are there to be won and we’re just very grateful and thankful that we got the result,” added Gavin. “Overall you’ve got to be satisfied with the performance.” 

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