Another year but the same outcome, as Dublin won Sam Maguire Cup for the third year in a row, after a 1-17 to 1-16 win over a heartbroken Mayo team who dominated for long periods.
Losing by 1-05 to 0-09 at half-time, Dublin emptied their far superior bench but it was Dean Rock with a free in the sixth minute of injury time that won it for the champions.
It is another year of hearbreak for Mayo but this is perhaps the worst one to fathom as they dominated the game and when Lee Keegan scored their goal in the 54th minute, they went a point up and looked like kicking on.
However, Dublin are not back-to-back champions for no reason and Jim Gavin used his bench well, bringing on Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon at half-time as the Dubs put in an improved second-half performance.
It’s a strange situation to be in when the man of the match should have been a Mayo player. Chris Barrett was the pick of the Mayo contingent but he was in good company, with Cillian O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin and Keith Higgins all playing brilliantly. However, it is customary for the man of the match in All-Ireland finals to come from the winning team, and James McCarthy in midfield was outstanding when Dublin needed him as they struggled in the first half.
Both teams made one change to the named line-ups as Paddy Durcan came in for Diarmuid O’Connolly for Mayo and Eoghan O’Gara came in for the unfortunate Nially Scully.
This suggested Dublin were going to go for it from the whistle and two minutes in, they got a goal when Con O’Callaghan waltzed by Colm Boyle and poked the ball by David Clarke in the Mayo goals. It was in the hill end and the Dubs there enjoyed that.
It took Mayo six minutes to get their first score when Aidan O’Shea won a throw up and Andy Moran finished off the move. A minute later, Mayo cut the gap to the minimum when Donie Vaughan hit over a score.
However, it would be another nine minutes before there was another score and it went to the Connacht side to level the game, with Kevin McLoughlin getting the score.
During this period, Dublin lost Jack McCaffrey to a knee injury and Paul Flynn replaced him. There was also a number of bad wides from both teams during this period as Dublin struggled to play their usual game.
Mayo should have taken the lead after McLoughlin’s point but their effort was just short and into the arms of Cluxton. Dublin went up the field and Eoghan O’Gara got the score with the help of Hawkeye to make it a two-point swing for the Dubs.
Points from Cillian O’Connor and Moran put Mayo back in the lead as Dublin uncharacteristically were losing a lot of their own kick-outs.
Rock leveled the game with a free before Moran and Jason Doherty both hit over lovely scores to put Mayo two points up.
John Small and Rock answered back for Dublin but Mayo were enjoying a lot of possession and doing to Dublin what they normally do to other teams.
After playing each other so many times in the last few years, there’s no love lost between these sides and there was a few melees and coming togethers in both halves.
In first-half injury time, Colm Boyle hit over a great score to restore Mayo’s two-point lead but a free from Rock put it back to the minimum 1-05 to 0-09 as the sides went in at half-time.
With Connolly and McManamon on for the ineffective Paddy Andrews and O’Gara, Dublin levelled the game within seconds as Paul Mannion hit a great score over.
O’Connor and Rock exchanged scores before McManamon put Dublin back in the lead in the 40th minute.
Doherty had a great chance for a goal in the 44th minute when he collected a lovely pass from Moran but his shot was saved by Stephen Cluxton and although Mayo won and converted the resulting free, they should have been two points up instead of just being level.
Just after that happened, Clarke in the Mayo goals had to produce a great save from Mannion. The ball ended up back with Mannion and a point for Dublin.
That made it 0-11 to 1-09 to Dublin but the drama was only starting as both teams went down to 14 men. John Small picked up a second yellow for a heavy challenge on Colm Boyle and Donie Vaughan followed up with a barge on Small and he got a straight red. Mayo manager Stephen Rochford was furious on the sidelines as Vaughan didn’t need to go in on the follow-up tackle.
The tension in Croke Park was rising and Dublin went two points up with 20 minutes to go after Brian Fenton hit over a point.
With Dublin two points up, Lee Keegan hit Mayo’s goal to put them a point up with 15 minutes to go. Moran collected a lovely ball into him by Cillian O’Connor and Keegan made a great run off him. He collected the ball and drilled it by the diving Cluxton.
Connolly and McLoughlin exchanged scores and when Cillian O’Connor hit over two free with six minutes of normal time left, Mayo were two points up.
Mannion and McCarthy levelled the game at 1-15 each with four minutes to go before Rock and O’Connor added to the scoreline.
As the announcer said there would be six minutes of additional time, Cillian O’Connor had a free from about 40 yards out but it hit the upright and Dublin cleared it.
What happened next was four minutes of both teams losing possession and counter-attacking before losing possession again.
In the 75th minute though, Diarmuid Connolly won a free in from just inside the 45 and as the clock ticked into the 77th minute, Dean Rock hit the free over.
Mayo still had some time but from their kick-out, Clarke had few options and ended up kicking the ball over the sideline about 35 yards out. Dublin kept possession and when the ref blew the whistle, the players celebrated as if it was their first All-Ireland and not their third-in-a-row.
For Mayo, it’s been another emotional roller-coaster of a ride that ends in absolute heartbreak. Everyone outside Dublin was shouting for them today but they will have to wait another year before they can attempt to bring Sam Maguire home. 66 years will become at least 67.
These two teams are head and shoulders above the rest of the country though, so don’t be surprised if we see both back for the 2018 All-Ireland final.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper, Philip McMahon, Michael Fitzsimons, John Small (0-01), Cian O’Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton (0-01), James McCarthy (0-02), Ciaran Kilkenny, Dean Rock (0-07, 0-04f), Con O’Callaghan (1-00), Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O’Gara (0-01), Paul Mannion (0-03)
Subs: Paul Flynn for McCaffrey (8 mins) Diarmuid Connolly (0-01) for Andrews, Kevin McManamon (0-01) for O’Gara (both HT), Bernard Brogan for Paul Flynn (64 mins) Niall Scully for O’Callaghan (68 mins), Cormac Costello for Mannion (73 mins).
Mayo: David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Paddy Durcan, Lee Keegan (1-00), Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle (00-01), Seamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons, Kevin McLoughlin (0-02), Aidan O’Shea, Donal Vaughan (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-02), Cillian O’Connor (0-07, 0-04f), Andy Moran (0-03).
Subs: Diarmuid O’Connor for Seamus O’Shea (50 mins),Stephen Coen for Boyle (55 mins), Conor Loftus for Andy Moran (62 mins), David Drake for Doherty (69 mins), Danny Kirby for McLoughlin (74 mins), Ger Cafferkey for Higgins (74 mins).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)