Old habits stand to Tyrone in endgame

 

FIRST WE form our habits and then our habits form us. When the final whistle blew in Croke Park on Saturday Mayo were in possession but Tyrone were winning. Mayo thought they were on the attack but Tyrone were all around them like a python's jaws ingesting an ostrich egg. Habit. Tyrone were winning in Croker. Mayo were doing their thing, adding another room to the house of pain.

This was a game Mayo could have won. Another in the long and mysterious litany of Croke Park dates Mayo might have taken home had their grasp been more confident.

Tyrone didn't reach the fluency of old but they finished the afternoon playing with an ominously familiar intensity. Their campaign is in that respect redolent of 2005, a long process of surviving while they find themselves.

Mayo led at half-time, cuddling a one-point lead they barely deserved to own. They had been outplayed for long stretches of the first half and their trimmed full-forward line was having trouble locating decent ball.

Two fine points by Billy Joe Padden and a goal against the grain of the game facilitated Mayo's daydreams though.

Tyrone began the afternoon - a chess-game exhibition between grandmasters John O'Mahony and Mickey Harte - with a bold-enough gambit. They took Conor Gormley out of the pivot of the defence and sent him to mark the quicksilver Conor Mortimer. The move was generally successful but needed just one mistake from Gormley to make it unravel.

That moment came in the 26th minute. Mayo survived a mesmeric passing movement by Tyrone when Tommy McGuigan fluffed the finish and blasted wide. From the kick-out play ran to the other end - Andy Moran, to Tom Parsons, to Pat Harte, who flicked across the square, where Mortimer was liberated and on hand to palm to the net and give Mayo an unlikely one-point lead.

Mortimer added a free from the hands a minute later and the game was on.

Gormley had done well shepherding his man but by half-time Mortimer had a goal and Gormley had a yellow card. Such is the fate of defenders.

For the second half le frère Mortimer, Trevor, was introduced and Mayo's two-man inside line consisted for a while solely of Mortimers. Mickey Harte switched Ciarán Gourley to mark Conor, sending Gormley after Alan Dillon, who was playing deep.

At the other end Tyrone operated an identical full-forward-line system, with Colm McCullagh, so industrious he made Brian Dooher look lazy, wandering deep in search of scraps.

For the second half though Tyrone moved Seán Cavanagh home to midfield. He had scored two points and looked dangerous in the full-forward job but Tyrone's need was for more possession and Cavanagh provided that, snuffing out the threat of David Heaney, who had enjoyed a good first half.

Mayo will look back at the period immediately after half-time with immense regret. They were wasteful in attack, running up a series of wides, and Conor Mortimer took a point when a goal seemed just as feasible.

Still they gradually pushed their lead out to three points and when Tommy McGuigan hoofed a free from the hands badly wide with 20 minutes left you began to wonder if Mayo weren't about to scalp Tyrone again.

They weren't. In the next 10 minutes Tyrone finished the game off with a run of six unanswered points. Mayo died with their boots on. They launched a late revival but having been so thoroughly dismantled in that spell they had left it too late - especially against Tyrone, whose DNA as a team is still designed for the endgame of championship skirmishes.

And that 10 minutes could have brought even more damage. Martin Penrose had just added to points from Tommy McGuigan and Colm McCullough to level the game when Cavanagh burst through, and again the mind's eye celebrated the consummating goal which seemed likely at the end of a great move. Cavanagh contented himself with a fisted point though and cantered back to midfield.

McCullough and Cavanagh added points before the hour, and at that point Tyrone declared their total and sat back to defend.

It came down to Mayo needing a point to equalise with one minute of normal time and three minutes of injury time to play.

Mayo needed a point. Tyrone needed just to smother them. Well, who would you have put your money on? Habit.

TYRONE: J Devine; R McMenamin (0-1), Justin McMahon, C Gourley; D Harte (0-1), C Gormley, P Jordan; R Mellon, E McGinley (0-1); B Dooher (0-1), B McGuigan, T McGuigan (0-2, 2 frees); Joe McMahon, S Cavanagh (0-4, 1 free), C McCullagh (0-2, 1 free). Subs: C Holmes for Mellon, M Penrose (0-1) for B McGuigan (both 47 mins), D Carlin for Harte (54 mins), O Mulligan for T McGuigan (67 mins), D McCaul for McMenamin (73 mins).

MAYO: D Clarke; K Higgins, T Cunniffe, T Howley; P Gardiner, J Nallen, A Higgins; D Heaney, T Parsons; A Moran, P Harte, BJ Padden (0-2), C Mortimer (1-4, 3 frees), A Dillon (0-3, 3 frees), A Kilcoyne. Subs: T Mortimer for Harte (half-time), A Campbell for Kilcoyne (55 mins), P Kelly for Howley (61 mins), R McGarrity for Moran (62 mins)

Referee: C Reilly (Meath).