JUST seconds from the end of three minutes of added-on time, Dublin’s lead, in the first of the All-Ireland football semi-finals, stood at 14 points.
On the face of it, it’s not that significant, because their place in another final and attempt at a phenomenal six-in-a-row were already done and dusted.
What’s interesting is that was the number the bookies had come up with in the handicap betting coming into a game in which Cavan were given a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning.
Then up popped substitute, Cormac Costello, to land the closing point in a 1-24 to 0-12 rout and leave the Dubs 15-point winners, their highest margin of victory in any of their semi-finals in recent times.
It’s always a source of fascination how the money men determine what the handicap betting is going to be.
You’d imagine a roomful of mathematical wizards locked away in places stacked with all sorts of computers, while number crunching and applying logarithms and formulae to come up with a simple number.
The other semi-final, however, defied logic and was one of the strangest games at this juncture of the championship in decades, with four points the considered verdict.
If you had told Tipperary supporters that early goal chances would fall to Michael Quinlivan and captain, Conor Sweeney, they would have rubbed their hands with glee.
Of all the players to be staring Mayo ’keeper, David Clarke, in the eyes in those situations, Quinlivan and Sweeney would be the pair, given their pedigree and history.
Yet, this was a Tipp side riddled with self-doubt, because that’s the only way to explain why Clarke was made look the hero, instead of picking the ball from the back of net, twice. In the first instance, Quinlivan hesitated for a quick second by looking inside to offload and then took the wrong option by going near-post, instead of across goal, allowing Clarke to save smartly for a ’45, which ’keeper, Evan Comerford, pulled well wide (uncharacteristically, it must be said).
Then, moments later, Sweeney’s aerial prowess unhinged the Mayo defence again, but the skipper opted for power rather than placing the shot low to Clarke’s left and ended up hitting it directly at the ’keeper, who parried the shot away from danger.
Of all the players to show how, Brian Fox would have been well down the pecking order, and yet his cool finish — slipping the ball with enough gas to get it over the line — was straight from the other pair’s textbook.
To compound matters, life at the other end of the pitch was even more problematic, as Tipp discovered to their horror the difference between Divisions 1 and 3.
OK, technically, Mayo are Division 2, because of their relegation from the top flight, but they are a well-established leading county, who always put it up to the Dubs, either in semi-finals or finals.
The Connacht champions have also developed a reputation, this season, for being one of the best sides at pressurising opponents into coughing up possession, according to the many anoraks out there.
And Tipp played right into their hands by attempting to move the ball — without pace and accuracy a lot of the time — through the lines, starting in their own full-back sector.
Defenders will have nightmares for the number of times they put possession at risk by bringing the ball into contact and getting turned over all too frequently and easily, which led to soft Mayo scores.
It’s a mindset of lower-ranked teams to play in this manner and one of the reasons why so many managers crave joining the elite eight sides in Division 1, because that’s what you encounter week-in and week-out.
After another Dublin stroll in the park, you’d wonder if it was even worthwhile going ahead with the final at all, until Mayo delivered 5-20.
Granted, conceding 3-13 and being cut open at the back too often for their liking took some of the shine off their victory, but Mayo will fancy their chances.
By the way, the bookies believe the handicap should be six points, with the Dubs 2/9.
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