Mayo keep their feet after shaky start to reach the final peak
Connacht champions survive first half woes before finding form in second period
Mayo’s Keith Higgins celebrates after the final whistle in Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Another box ticked for Mayo, even if they took their time to get the pen working. For a team that has spent the summer cruising along with top down, they found out yesterday what they were capable of when asked to run on a tank of dirty fuel. They put Tyrone away in the end by 1-16 to 0-13 but had to claw and scratch their way out of a first-half hole to get there. For that reason, it will stand as the most worthwhile day’s work of their year so far.
In fairness, it would hardly be Mayo without some bit of a wobble. It’s like that old story about the Australian rugby coach Bob Dwyer who upon arriving at a struggling club to be told that there was no money for tackle bags, spotted a heap of bust mattresses out by a skip and asked why weren’t they being used instead. Mayo have spent the championship peddling perfection but it wasn’t a resource they had access to yesterday. Instead, they had to make do and mend with what they could get their hands on.
“Today was a grind,” said James Horan afterwards. “The hardest game we’ve had, certainly in the first half. We were playing poor stuff but we kept going and kept battling. In the first half we had six wides and they were six of the easiest shots we’d had. We missed two 14-yard frees, we lost our free taker, we had a goal disallowed but it didn’t matter – we just kept playing and eventually we came through. I think today was good for us and we certainly took a lot from it.”
First and last, they will have taken the fact that they’ve made another final. In a different year, their opening half hour here would have been fatal. A crowd of 65,345 watched them go behind early and saw them trailing by 0-7 to 0-3 five minutes out from the break. They had already lost Cillian O’Connor to what looked like another dislocation of his left shoulder and had yet to score from play.
It was a first half that had a disconcertingly retro feel about it, like the worst excesses of the bad old days of Mayo made flesh at just the wrong time. Before the break they kicked six wides, dropped three short and caught the post with another. Sheer nerves seemed to have an anaphylactic effect, causing totems like Andy Moran, Kevin McLoughlin, Donal Vaughan and Ger Cafferkey all to put in as shaky a half as anyone had seen in an age.
McLoughlin’s 25th minute free that flashed wide from 14 metres was mortifying. Worse, it meant they got nothing from a move that saw Alan Freeman finish smartly to the net only for it to be called back by Maurice Deegan. It all was very Old Mayo.