‘You could see the fear in Mayo eyes’ in the first 30 minutes
Tyrone’s big regret is not capitalising on first-half dominance in All-Ireland SFC semi-final
Tyrone’s Joe McMahon argues with referee Maurice Deegan after he awarded Mayo’s penalty during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
This is a championship exit procedure which seems unique to Tyrone. It begins with manager Mickey Harte circling his team into a post-match huddle, and after an exchange of intimate words, they walk without any fuss, giving the distinct impression they will be back.
There is no self-applause, certainly no tears, and later, when Harte sits down to give his version of what unfolded, there is nothing but respect for what his team did, as well as the team that undid them.
What made this defeat to Mayo a little different is the extra sense of hurt, not so much because Tyrone were so comprehensively out-played in the second half, but because they didn’t capitalise on their own dominance in the first half.
They had dismantled Mayo’s game, only for the Westerners to pick up the pieces and build something better again.
Seán Cavanagh put it bluntly: “You could see the fear in their eyes” as Tyrone tore into them in the opening 30 minutes. “No disrespect, but we knew they hadn’t been tested, knew we could shock them in the first half, and that’s what we did,” said Cavanagh.
“We just couldn’t see it through. I know we had the quality in the squad. A few years ago we came here and were beaten by Dublin, and that was deflating because we knew we were beaten by a better side on the night. The regret here is that if a couple of the big breaks had gone our way we had the winning of this game.”
Mayo certainly didn’t get all the breaks, but after losing Peter Harte, then Steven O’Neill, and a penalty decision that might well have been a free the other way, Tyrone didn’t seem to get much luck.
“Losing those two players, leaders to our set up, was massive,” said Cavanagh. “Then the penalty almost deflated us, knocked the stuffing out of us, and that played into their hands, too.”
Whatever about losing O’Neill, Micky Harte certainly didn’t like the sight of Harte being helped off on crutches, his hip badly injured after a heavy tackle from Tom Cunniffe.
“That was crucial,” Harte said. “Peter’s just new at that level, was playing very well for us in the last number of games, and was going to be instrumental in our game plan. But what would annoy me more than anything, he didn’t even get a free, for something that made him have to leave the field, on crutches.”
The penalty – and whether Colm Boyle was brought down inside the area – didn’t seem to bother Harte as much: “Well some of our players out there did feel that it was outside the box. The call went against us and we won’t change that now.
“It’s just very disappointing because I think the players put in a very big effort, particularly in the first half. I would have to say approaching half-time, when we were seven-three up, I don’t think anybody would have read the script that way.
“It was just unfortunate from our perspective that we let them back in for three points before half-time, which gave them a position going in at half-time that they probably didn’t deserve.
“But overall that’s the mark of what Mayo are about. Maybe in the past if they were under the cosh like we had them for the first 30 minutes they might not have had the resilience to come back, and get that march on us before half-time.
“Therefore it was always us chasing the game after that. And I think Mayo, the way they have been playing this year, you don’t want to be chasing them.”
Any talk of potential retirements – O’Neill and Conor Gormley in particular - Harte put off for another day.