MAYO 1-16 TYRONE 0-13: Mayo's much feared dreadnought rolled into Croke Park yesterday for the first GAA All-Ireland football semi-final. Under Mickey Harte, Tyrone have thrown more than a few spanners in the works of such machinery and there was much interest in what he could do to inhibit a team with an average winning margin of more than 15 points.
Sure enough, Mayo – by consensus closer than ever to a first All-Ireland since 1951 – looked haunted by the spectral implications of the first-half challenge.
Tyrone did what they do, set up defensively, worked hard and showed some nice touches up front to exert the sort of pressure the Connacht champions haven’t yet had to resist.
But whatever ghosts were in the Mayo machine up until half-time were exorcised in a second-half display in which the favourites began to mobilise more recognisably and Tyrone were simply unable to cope with the climbing tempo.
They held on and scrapped as best they could but once they had lost their advantage on the scoreboard, through an incorrectly awarded penalty, their attempts to retrieve the situation became increasingly forlorn and they didn’t do badly to keep the margin to six by the end.
Relief at reaching a second successive final was tempered by Cillian O’Connor’s forced replacement in the 11th minute with what is feared to be a dislocated shoulder, a recurrence of a chronic injury that has kept him out of action for long periods over the past year.
Tyrone had their own problems in this regard. Peter Harte had to go off in the sixth minute after a well-timed shoulder-to-shoulder challenge by Tom Cunniffe left him in a heap. Later in the half, captain Stephen O’Neill was withdrawn, bringing to a premature close another injury-wrecked season.
But otherwise Tyrone looked to have the situation under control. At the back they were alert and disciplined, backing up the player in possession and making it hard for Mayo to carve inroads into their defence. Sweeper Joe McMahon protected the full backs and tirelessly made himself available.
Better than expected
Although Tyrone went for some uncontested kick-outs they were doing a lot better than expected in the air at centrefield where it was more of a day for the less celebrated siblings in the clash of the O'Shea and Cavanagh brothers.
Seán Cavanagh found it hard to get Mayo on the back foot and some of his distributions were careless but his brother Colm worked hard and kept going, while Aidan O'Shea didn't repeat the tour de force against Donegal and brother Séamus, detailed to mark Seán Cavanagh, put in a terrific shift.
Mayo caused further early apprehension to their supporters by failing to mark at the back with anything like the power and effectiveness of previous matches. On top of that their attacks were powder puff, lacking customary directness and featuring dizzyingly bad wides.
Harte’s team consequently took some nice scores – Darren McCurry, Connor McAliskey and replacement Ronan O’Neill all kicking well from play – to open up a four-point gap with just over half an hour gone.
Their use of the ball wasn’t, however, consistently effective and a number of attacking possession went for nothing.
Yet Mayo were going so badly that prospects were looking bleak. After O'Connor's departure Alan Freeman took on the free-taking and did so with authority, which was one of the team's lifelines. He also posed problems in play.
In the 25th minute, he was unfortunate that referee Maurice Deegan whistled for a free just as he was disengaging himself from the attentions of the defence before sending an extraordinary finish into the net.
To make bad worse, Kevin McLaughlin missed the close-in free.
Another lifeline was the sequence of scoring in the dying minutes of the half.
With the attack malfunctioning like never before this season, the backs took up the cause and Chris Barrett, twice, and Lee Keegan got up for points that cut the deficit to just one, 0-6 to 0-7, at the break – an outcome that it was impossible to regard as anything except bad value for Tyrone.
The turning point arrived just after the re-start. Enda Varley levelled the match before the controversial award of a penalty in the 39th minute put Mayo in the driving seat.
Colm Boyle broke through on a counter-attacking run that was ended by a foul by the chasing Dermot Carlin.
Video replay suggested the infraction took place outside the line but the referee awarded a penalty and Freeman whipped it into the net to give Mayo the lead for the first time.
By this stage Tyrone had also missed a scoreable free and would do so again a few minutes after conceding the goal.
Extended the lead
Mayo extended the lead to five, 1-10 to 0-8 before Tyrone scored again – a scoreboard drought that lasted in all 20 minutes – and although there was a hopeful appeal for a foot-block on Ryan McKenna, whose attacking counter saw a goal chance open up, the team had to make do with a point from McCurry for a deficit of 0-9 to 1-10.
For the remainder of the match the margin never looked like reducing significantly. Mayo settled into the rhythm of blitz attacks, with McLaughlin getting back to normal form after a rocky first half and Keith Higgins’s pace, which had always been a danger, combining to tear holes in the Tyrone rearguard.
So Mayo coped with the long awaited challenge and there’s just one to go.
MAYO: 1 R Hennelly (0-1, free); 2 T Cunniffe, 3 G Cafferkey, 4 C Barrett (0-2); 5 L Keegan (0-2), 6 D Vaughan, 7 C Boyle; 9 S O'Shea, 8 A O'Shea (0-1); 10 K McLoughlin (0-1, free), 12 A Dillon (0-2), 11 K Higgins; 13 C O'Connor (0-1, free), 14 A Freeman (1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-3 frees), 15 A Moran. Subs: 24 E Varley (0-1) for O'Connor (11 mins), 26 M Conroy for Moran (56 mins), 22 C Carolan (0-1) for Cunniffe (58 mins), 23 R Feeney for Vaughan (64 mins), 20 B Moran for A O'Shea (68 mins). Yellow cards: Freeman (16 mins), Keegan (17 mins), A O'Shea (30 mins), Moran (56 mins), Cafferkey (67 mins).
TYRONE: 1 P McConnell; 4 C McCarron, 7 C Gormley, 2 R McKenna; 6 P Harte, 3 C Clarke, 5 C McGinley (0-1); 8 C Cavanagh, 9 S Cavanagh (0-2, 0-1 free); 11 Mark Donnelly, 14 S O'Neill (0-1), 10 Matthew Donnelly; 13 D McCurry (0-4, 0-2 frees), 15 C McAliskey (0-2), 12 J McMahon. Subs: 17 D Carlin for Harte (7 mins), 29 R O'Neill (0-1) for S O'Neill (27 mins), 27 R McNabb for McMahon (44 mins), 18 A Cassidy (0-1) for Matthew Donnelly (48 mins), 19 K Coney (0-1) for R O'Neill (58 mins). Yellow cards: C Cavanagh (55 mins).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).