Tyrone 2-14 Mayo 0-15
For all the historical portents and yearning around Mayo, the 2021 All-Ireland football title was not decided by anything more noteworthy than the better team, smartly managed, taking Sam Maguire back to Tyrone for a fourth occasion.
The steadier rhythms of their play allied to an admirable economy gave the Ulster champions surprisingly swift command of a match that had begun brightly for their opponents. Once a Darren McCurry free edged them a point ahead, 0-3 to 0-2 in the 10th minute, they never again trailed in the match.
To be fair to Mayo that clinical sense of predictability didn’t kick in until later in the match and the first half was keenly contested. Tyrone led by only two at the break, 0-10 to 0-8, but the mainframe for their victory was already installed.
Their defence was organised and suffocating with a couple of exceptions when conceding goal chances but in both cases the defensive recovery was impressive.
They were achieving a definite edge in most areas of the field, even unexpectedly as centrefield where Mayo Footballer of the Year candidate Matthew Ruane had a frustrating afternoon, culminating in an injury-time red card for striking Conn Kilpatrick, who escaped with a yellow, in a brawling confrontation.
Tyrone's unsung pairing of Brian Kennedy and Kilpatrick won a nice bit of conventional possession in the air and had industrious afternoons, each outshining the other in either half. Kennedy's early heroics gave way to a spectacular catch from Kilpatrick in the 59th minute to send Conor McKenna away and set up the second goal.
McCurry secured the TV man of the match award but there was an argument for goalkeeper Niall Morgan, who survived a ropey opening when he failed to get a kick-out beyond the 20-metre line. He quickly parked that and went on to play a significant role in settling the team: commanding in the air, giving the team the flexibility of a seventh defender and kicking with assurance.
Opposite number Rob Hennelly had a mixed bag, missing a couple of frees and getting caught in no-man's land for the first Tyrone goal. Morgan swooped onto anything threatening in the air, including at one stage around the centre-back position, held the ball like a quarterback and distributed it expertly.
He nailed all his dead-ball attempts and the ambition of his long-range restarts was striking even if they didn’t all come off.
There was one sequence around the half-hour that exemplified this: Coming onto the ball, booming a long ball beyond the cover for Conor McKenna to flick into McCurry for a goal chance that he snatched at and Hennelly saved at the expense of a 45 – which Morgan sent over with the help of a post.
This ability to mix it up stood Tyrone in good stead. They went for long- and medium-range points with good accuracy when opportunity presented – captain, Pádraig Hampsey, who again showed great leadership, was put in a bit of space on the right by Ronan McNamee and bent a great point into the Canal goal.
McCurry had an excellent game, not always clinical – as with the goal chance and an attacking possession near the posts that he fumbled and lost – but he was unperturbed, kicked his frees and ran great support to avail of an unselfish assist from McKenna for the second goal.
Mayo were too helter-skelter. In the opening few minutes they had a power surge and looked capable of anything with Tommy Conroy threatening to ruin Hampsey's day and Ryan O'Donoghue harassing Michael McKernan to the point of forcing a 45 from him in the second minute.
The latter maintained his capable deputising for the injured Cillian O'Connor by kicking frees accurately and supplying the bones of Mayo's eight half-time points. Conroy was the only other forward to score – one point – and there were two from defenders Patrick Durcan and Stephen Coen.
Aidan O’Shea got onto a lot of ball and whereas he held it well and drew fouls, he had two difficulties – a lack of movement from other forwards and of a finishing instinct on his own part. A great ball from O’Donoghue gave him possession closing in on goal but he needed to lose McNamee who instead blocked smartly to avert the danger.
There had also been an open goal after Morgan came out smartly to smother a Bryan Walsh shot but Conor Loftus's follow-up lacked conviction and Niall Sludden was back to take the ball of the line – before popping up for two points at the other end.
By half-time Mayo – at 0-8 to 0-10 – could reflect on having avoided the woeful first-half displays of their previous two matches against Dublin and Galway, being nicely in touch on the scoreboard and not down a man for 10 minutes after referee Joe McQuillan ignored a clear black-card offence when Pádraig O’Hora took down McCurry.
It was an unhappy position for the Mayo defender, who switched with Lee Keegan to take up Matthew Donnelly after half-time.
If Mayo had hoped that the third quarter would bring a gear change for them, they were disappointed. They'd have liked the sound of conceding just two scores and in return getting a penalty, which happened when the tireless Frank Burns clawed a ball off the ground when it was nearly over the goal-line after O'Donoghue's free had spiralled short of the posts and broken in the square.
His penalty was also inaccurate and hit the post before going wide. The other problem: both of Tyrone’s scores were goals. Cathal McShane again made an impact on coming into the final, dancing around under Conor Meyler’s terrific high ball and beating Oisín Mullin to the punch – literally – and prodding it beyond Hennelly.
The second came from a driving run by McKenna and perfect pass into McCurry for a simple slap in to the net.
The net result was that yet again Mayo were chasing an All-Ireland final. The inability to take goal chances – Conroy had put one wide early in the second half – bred a kind of panic and unlike Dublin in the semi-final, Tyrone weren’t in the mood to indulge a frenzied flurry of attacks and kept a tidy shop until the end.
Impact off the bench was also contrasting, the winners getting 1-1 and Mayo nothing. Tyrone also finished out the match smartly, taking the fisted points to keep the scoreboard moving.
It has been a remarkable maiden voyage for Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher, the first joint-managers to win an All-Ireland. They came in for a truncated season and managed to put a stamp on the team. Clever football, well-executed. No fuss, no drama.
TYRONE: 1 Niall Morgan (0-3, two frees, one 45); 2 Michael McKernan, 3 Ronan McNamee , 4 Pádraig Hampsey (capt; 0-1); 5 Frank Burns, 6 Peter Harte (0-1, mark), 7 Kieran McGeary (0-1); 8 Brian Kennedy, 9 Conn Kilpatrick; 11 Michael O'Neill, 12 Niall Sludden (0-2), 10 Conor Meyler; 13 Darren McCurry (1-4, two points frees), 14 Mattie Donnelly (0-1), 15 Conor McKenna.
Subs: 23 Cathal McShane (1-0) for Kennedy (44 mins), 18 Darragh Canavan (0-1) for O'Neill (53 mins), 22 McDonnell for Kennedy (57 mins), 19 Paul Donaghy for McKenna (66 mins), 21 Tiernan McCann for Kilpatrick (73 mins).
MAYO: 1 Rob Hennelly (0-1, free); 3 Lee Keegan (0-1), 6 Stephen Coen (0-1), 2 Pádraig O'Hora, 4 Michael Plunkett, 19 Oisín Mullen, 5 Patrick Durcan (0-1); 8 Matthew Ruane, 10 Diarmuid O'Connor; 9 Conor Loftus, 13 Kevin McLaughlin (0-1), 12 Bryan Walsh, 14 Tommy Conroy (0-2), 11 Aidan O'Shea (capt), 15 Ryan O'Donoghue (0-8, seven frees).
Subs: 7 Enda Hession for Plunkett (half-time), 21 Jordan Flynn for O'Hora (52 mins), 24 Darren Coen for Walsh (58 mins), 25 Aidan Orme for Loftus (66 mins), 26 James Carr for McLoughlin (74 mins).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).