Tyrone display their typical resilience
DIVISION ONE Tyrone 1-12 Mayo 1-11:The Red Hand remains unbeaten this year. Mickey Harte’s team somehow won and lost this game before claiming a crucial road win thanks to Stephen O’Neill’s late winning penalty.
It seemed like something akin to old times for the Tyrone supporters. The sight of Sean Cavanagh pulling strings at midfield and the two McMahon brothers anchoring what was a relentless and disciplined Tyrone defensive effort bore the hallmarks of their All-Ireland -winning years.
And the composure they showed in grafting to win a crucial ball in the 75th minute of the game – Stephen O’Neill was operating at midfield at this stage and delivered a long, speculative ball towards the Mayo square – was redolent of what always has been their best quality: they never quit. Mark Donnelly grabbed possession and was bundled over by several Mayo men as he went to shoot.
O’Neill’s penalty was low and accurate and made to look perfectly easy.
Just like that, Mayo had what would have been an act of audacious thievery cancelled out.
They had played second fiddle to Tyrone all day, unable to figure their way through the sweeping defensive system which the visitors imposed and couldn’t buy a score from play for 31 minutes of the second half until Keith Higgins came like a speed train through a gap and, taking a pass from Kevin McLoughlin, fired a goal which turned the game on its head.
“Yeah, we had looked pretty comfortable when we were 0-12 to 0-8 up,” grinned Mickey Harte afterwards.
“I said to Gavin Devlin who was standing beside me: if we don’t concede a goal here we will win this game. But shortly after that we did. It is heartbreaking on Mayo too after the effort they put in. They thought they had the winning post in sight as well.”
Mayo won all the possession they needed over the course of the game, with Aidan O’Shea ripping spectacular catches out of the clouds and Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan and Tom Cunniffe sharp to breaking ball.
But once they turned to face the white shirts fanning across the field, Mayo completely lost their way, either carrying the ball into trouble or asking their full-forward line to compete with three or four Tyrone defenders for 50-50 balls.
Out of ideas
Only the free-taking of Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty kept Mayo in touch but as the second half developed, it was clear they were out of ideas as to how to break Tyrone down.
“Yeah. We didn’t play smart today at all for the entire game,” said their manager James Horan.
But they weren’t really allowed to. It was a classic Tyrone performance, bamboozling the opposition and taking them ever further away from their familiar patterns of play and then capitalising with swift counter-attacks when Mayo’s attacks broke down.
All day long, they sought to free full-forwards O’Neill and the lively Conor McAlliskey with long, telling passes to the corners and had runners seeking to exploit the gaps in front of goal. Twice they created clear-cut goal chances: McAlliskey and Joe McMahon both sent low shots whistling wide.
Still, the engine was smooth. They eased into their four-point lead by knocking over points with no pressure.
But they were sumptuous points, with Martin Penrose finding his range four minutes after half time and Ronan McNamee kicking a beautiful score after 58 minutes to leave Tyrone sitting pretty. Mayo had no response.
But as ever under Horan, they were honest. The locals in the crowd of 6,046 had resigned themselves to a defeat when Mayo came storming back into contention with Higgins 67th minute goal. The score was so completely against the run of play that it took Tyrone a few minutes to adjust.
When they did, they were a point behind. Donal Vaughan charged through a channel to blast a point.
Then Jason Doherty delivered two frees, the second of which was top class, to leave Mayo with a haul of 1-3 in those five hectic minutes.
It ought to have been enough to break Tyrone’s spirit but they scrapped to win their first ball in about ten minutes at midfield, with O’Neill acting as midfielder for the crucial play.
TYRONE: N Morgan (0-2, 2f), A McCrory, Justin McMahon C Gormley; R McKenna, Joe McMahon, R McNamee; C Clarke, S Cavanagh (0-2, 1f); P McNiece, P Harte (0-2), P Kane; C McAlliskey (0-1), S O’Neill (1-1 pen), M Donnelly. Subs: C McCarron (0-1) for C Gormley (13 mins inj), M Penrose (0-1) for P Kane (half-time), D McCurry (0-1, f) for P Harte (45 mins inj.), J Lafferty for P McNiece (58 mins), R O’Neill for C Clarke (60 mins).
MAYO: D Clarke, G Cafferkey, K Keane, K Higgins (1-0); C Boyle, T Cunniffe, C Barrett; A O’Shea, S O’Shea; R Feeney, L Keegan (0-1), C Freeman; K McLoughlin (0-3, 3f), J Doherty (0-6, 5f), 15 M Conroy. Subs: B Moran for S O’Shea (half-time), A Dillon for C Barrett ( 55 mins) E Varley for C Freeman (55 mins), D Vaughan (0-1) for C Boyle (62 mins),
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).