All-Ireland fever has gripped Mayo after James Horan’s storm-troopers blitzed champions Dublin in the semi-final on Sunday by a score of 0-19 to 0-16.
Mayo, 10 points up at one stage, held on for dear life as Dublin staged a late but futile recovery in an intriguing clash at Croke Park.
Donegal are next up for the underdogs from the west in the final, but for now Horan will enjoy the sweet win over the Dubs after the mother of all battles.
He admitted to RTE television, “I’m delighted. We came through a battle today. We lost a few players and a few guys went down with cramp and that but we kept at it.
“Dublin got a run on us in the second half but we just kept going. We kept believing and we got there in the end. We’re delighted to get out of there and we’re already looking forward to the next game now.
“We kept going, got through, even though we made some very basic mistakes. But we showed real character to come through it. We’re delighted with the win.
“Momentum certainly went with them. We seemed to run out of a bit of juice 10 or 15 minutes into the half. They got every breaking ball. They got about eight or nine breaks in a row and that put huge pressure on us. Our backs, in particular, defended superbly.
“There were a lot of goal chances but we kept them all out and that is what won us the game. There were a huge amount of mistakes today but we’ll go away as we always do and work on them and prepare for the next game.”
Horan admitted his nerves were jangling as Dublin came back into the game. He added, “It was torture to be honest with you. Dublin got a run on us in the second half, and we just could not get our hands on the ball for about 15 minutes.
“They won every break and were winning everything in midfield. We just seemed to run out of juice a little bit, and they were coming at us in waves.
“It was last-ditch defending but we managed to keep it out, and we showed great character at the end.”
Donegal will start the All-Ireland final as favorites, but Mayo star Keith Higgins is adamant his team will be ready for the hype.
He stated, “Maybe in other years there might have been more pressure. We will be underdogs and that’s fair enough and we know the task ahead.
“We had a chat in the dressing room and we’ll train Tuesday night. Everyone knows their game plan and style, and they’re hard to break down. That’s what’s ahead of us.”
Higgins also dismissed claims that Mayo panicked when they allowed Dublin back into the game in a frantic final quarter.
He said, “Panic might be too strong a word. We just weren’t winning the balls we were winning in the first half and they were getting chances and creating overlaps.”
Mayo forward Mickey Conroy was also concerned by that spell of Dublin dominance as his team almost threw victory away.
Conroy said, “Everyone tries to get off to a good start, it’s about keeping it going but we let Dublin back into it big time. It’s a big issue we’ll have to look at for the final.
“We started well in midfield and tried to get the ball in there quick and that was the start of it. We had no fear of them and why would we? We were in a good place, they were champions and it’s very hard to win it back-to-back. We’d nothing to lose and gave it a rattle.
“We got over the line, but that second half may not be good enough against Donegal and it’s no good knocking out champions unless you win it yourself.
“But there is something a small bit different to other finals I’ve been involved in. There’s something different about this group. Will it be good enough? We’ll see.”
DEJECTED Dublin captain Bryan Cullen has dismissed all talk that his team lacked hunger as they surrendered their All-Ireland crown in Sunday’s defeat to Mayo.
The Dubs were favorites to advance to the final but were caught cold as Mayo built-up a 10 point lead early in the second half at headquarters.
A late resurgence did get Pat Gilroy’s team within three points of the westerners, but Mayo held out for a famous win.
Afterwards Cullen said, “I’d like to think the lads wanted to win this year just as much as last year. I think you saw that from the efforts out there, the lads threw the kitchen sink at it. We did the same last year, but just left it a bit too late this year.
“At the end of the first half and start of the second half, we struggled to click into gear. That was where the damage was done and we were playing catch-up from then on.
“Mayo are a good side, if you give them possession and space they’re going to hurt you and that’s exactly what they did.”
Cullen also claimed that Dublin will bounce back next year. He added, “The average age of this team is only 24, 25. There’s loads more football to be played from the lads in that dressing room.”
Speculation is now rife that Dublin boss Pat Gilroy will quit his position in the wake of Sunday’s defeat.
Speaking after the game, Gilroy said, “I don’t even know what I am doing next week, not to mind next year, so this is not the time to think about those things.
“It’s very raw at the minute so we need to go away for a week or two and have a good think. There’s other people always involved in me making a decision to go on with this.”
Asked about the match, Gilroy commented, “I think we were quite close to Mayo’s intensity but not quite at it for 26 or 27 minutes.
“Then a couple of cheap scores at the end, like easy scores that we gave away at the end of the first half put us into a very difficult position at six points down. We continued that pattern after halftime and went 10 behind.
“We were close, far closer than in the league and when we really put the screw on, we put them under severe pressure but it was probably just too late.
“I don’t think it’s any harder defending it as winning it. It’s just very difficult. Other teams get better, people are good. I think, I couldn’t fault any player for their application or their effort this year.
“They all did everything, even more so than last year and physically they were probably even a step up from where they were last year and it wasn’t good enough. So, to win an All-Ireland is a huge task and I think other teams just probably do get a bit better.”
KILKENNY boss Brian Cody is backing his team to prove their Leinster final defeat to Galway was a one–off when they meet again in Sunday’s All-Ireland decider.
Cody said, “We shouldn’t be in a position where one defeat is going to suddenly shatter our confidence, I think the team has been together too long for that to happen.
“People are beginning to wonder around the place, ‘Are they finished, is the team coming to an end?’
“That’s being speculated on in the press and whatever, and that’s fair enough. It hasn’t occurred to me that that is the case though.
“Obviously we got a serious beating. That focused the mind for you very much. If that had happened in the All-Ireland semi-final that was our year over, it’s gone.
“Everyone understood it was a very, very bad beating to get but we had an opportunity to do something about it.
“Another avenue opened up for us and it would be understandable enough that everything would be put into getting yourself right for that opportunity.
“It was an opportunity that we wouldn’t always have had so it wasn’t a case of having to motivate players, they came back totally focused and totally determined to salvage the season again.
“It took an extra game but we got to the final where we wanted to be and the challenge now is to go ahead of win it.”
GALWAY boss Anthony Cunningham can’t wait to see Joe Canning on the All-Ireland final stage against Kilkenny this Sunday.
Canning has worked hard on his fitness this season and has been rewarded with his first appearance in hurling’s biggest game as Galway look to repeat their Leinster final win over the Cats.
Manager Cunningham said, “Definitely early in the season he put in tremendous work but then he got a couple of injuries that set him back slightly.
“When we met with Joe, in the first couple of conversations we stressed we wanted to get him back to his ‘08 form. The first year that Joe came on, a league semi-final against Cork in Limerick, he was nearly unmarkable.
“His nerve to go and score dipped a bit. I don’t think it was as a result of any lack of effort from Joe, but if you’re a forward and your nerve dips - your finish can dip. He really turned it around.”