Tyrone gives Mayo a lesson in how to win a final
Winning all over Ireland is tough business. If only it were that simple, Mayo would have done it multiple times over the past 70 years.
ut Tyrone, those paragons of uncompromising pragmatism and wired with a football intelligence that has so often eluded their scattergun opponents, make an art of it.
Once upon a time under Mickey Harte, they were masters of getting it right on the big day – three times in all. Now, after Harte finally stepped down, Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have gone the distance in their very first season.
It’s an astonishing achievement, which seems almost unbelievable given the context they were in June (having surrendered six goals to Kerry in Killarney) and August (as they battled the ravages of Covid). But now they are Kings of the Month for September for the fourth time in their history, and there couldn’t be a more deserving winner.
There is some symmetry in the final score – 2-14 to 0-15, a carbon copy of Mayo’s final loss to Dublin last December. Then they might seek some solace in losing a great opponent with a team that had progressed ahead of its time.
But subsequent events could suggest Dublin was already in gradual decline, and there is no such comfort for Mayo as they wake up for another post-All-Ireland Blue Monday.
Tyrone looks like a team that will only get better, with an emphasis on that very important word – team. Whereas Mayo, after an effervescent start that quickly lost its effervescence, played like a disparate collection of individuals.
Certainly, some were heroic in a traumatic defeat – none more than Lee Keegan, who continued to lead the fight when all seemed lost. Stephen Coen was another who was very diligent in his main defensive role while scoring one good point and helping Kevin McLoughlin for another. In the end, however, Mayo had disintegrated in a quagmire of insane duds, myopic solo runs, and missed passes. It was their worst final performance for all of Ireland since 2006.
To what extent is this due to the quality or lack of it? A lot. But James Horan and his management team must share the blame.
If you measure the ebb and flow of this error-strewn but convincing decision maker, Tyrone was decisive on most of the key metrics.
Their tackle count was far superior – indicative of not only the same intensity that unraveled Kerry, but Mayo’s same propensity to run blindly into the Bermuda Triangle of Tyrone’s voracious bullet-shooters.
Once again, the Ulster champions feasted on turnovers – but that wasn’t their only source of scores.
Tyrone has gone along with his reboots with greater frequency and with decisive results. Three first-half scores – Niall Morgan’s free opening, points for Darren McCurry and Niall Sludden – had their genesis in the sweep
kickouts directly after a Mayo point. Everyone is a moose killer.
The trend repeated itself, even more spectacularly, over 58 minutes. Tyrone, now putting up with his own point-taking “yips”, had only scored one goal after half-time and McLoughlin had just reduced his lead to two … Morgan duly released his “Callaway” and passed the midfield, where Conn Kilpatrick took a sweep before releasing Conor McKenna.
Give an object lesson on how to maximize a scoring chance: McKenna waited just long enough before passing the hand past stranded Rob Hennelly to get McCurry home.
There had been plenty of pre-game talk about Morgan’s flakier semi-final moments against Kerry as well as the suspicion that the Mayo midfielder would hold a decisive advantage over Tyrone’s unannounced pair.
All three have delivered a decisive rebuttal here. Brian Kennedy was superb in the first half, Kilpatrick then took over, diverting Matthew Ruane to the outskirts long before Mayo’s putative Footballer of the Year candidate was
red card in the downtime to go after Kilpatrick, who was booked.
As for Mercuriel Morgan – once he washed away the bad vibes of a first kickoff that didn’t cross the 20m line – he was arguably the most important influence of the game.
McCurry was named RTÉ’s Man of the Match after showing off his full repertoire of his “Dazzler” tricks, shooting 1-2 out of the game while winning and converting two free first halves. He had compelling arguments, but our marginal preference went to his colleague from Edendork between – and often beyond – sticks.
Even neglecting his 0-3 on set balls, Morgan’s performance was almost Cluxtonesque, on restarts but also in open play.
A cameo on the half hour stands out. Overflowing on a misdirected Bryan Walsh punt, he found himself solo in the middle, then sent a defensive pass to Conor McKenna, whose deft aerial shot freed McCurry on goal.
His football attempt was brilliantly saved by Hennelly’s outstretched boot. It was still a huge chance, which would have created a five-point daylight between the sides – but at least Morgan hit the “45”.
And so Tyrone was leading 0-10 to 0-8 at the break. It could have been more; on the other hand, Mayo had also fended off two glorious scoring chances.
This brings us to the familiar refrain of why Mayo lost: too many forwards guilty of poor decision-making or even even poorer execution in those clutch moments.
Passed by Ryan O’Donoghue, Walsh should have shot from the left but turned around; he was half blocked by Morgan and when the rebound fell on Conor Loftus for what appeared to be a simple rebound, his scorched side foot was blocked on the line by Niall Sludden.
Aidan O’Shea’s failure was not as glaring but it was another case of a bad choice in the right position: freed by O’Donoghue’s long superlative pass, Mayo’s skipper should have checked in. inside but left with his left, half-heartedly, and was blocked by Ronan McNamee.
The man who has never scored once in seven All-Irelands had his first halftime moments (of the scoreless variety) but his legs had gone completely long before it was over. This time, Horan kept it: a questionable decision made somewhat less by the long queue of equally floundering teammates.
Still, we might be writing a different storyline if Tommy Conroy ended his electrifying flurry in front of Pádraig Hampsey with a goal (instead of shooting too early and too far). Or if O’Donoghue, after his Rashford “shuffle”, found the upper right corner instead of a right edge of that fateful 42nd minute penalty, awarded after Frank Burns manipulated the ground in a goalmouth scramble .
This crucial mistake visibly emptied Mayo’s already fragile belief. And when Conor Meyler stole that inviting diagonal pass precisely where Conor McShane had pointed it, just beyond Oisín Mullin, we had the day’s view of Hennelly’s groundhog caught in no man’s land as the balloon had impudently passed beyond him.
On a day when Mayo’s starting forwards were 0-4 off the game while pushing back so many scoring chances, Tyrone now had a hand on Sam. They were never going to let go.
MARKERS – Tyron: D McCurry 1-4 (0-2f), N Morgan 0-3 (2f, 1 ’45’), C McShane 1-0, N Sludden 0-2, P Hampsey, K McGeary, M Donnelly, P Harte (m ), D Canavan 0-1 each. Mayo: R O’Donoghue 0-8 (7f), T Conroy 0-2, P Durcan, S Coen, R Hennelly (f), K McLoughlin, L Keegan 0-1.
TYRONE – N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; K McGeary, P Harte, F Burns; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; N Sludden, M O’Neill, C Meyler; D McCurry, M Donnelly, C McKenna. Subs: C McShane for Donnelly (44), D Canavan for O’Neill (53), B McDonnell for Kennedy (57), P Donaghy for McKenna (66), T McCann for Kilpatrick (73).
MAYO – R Hennelly; L Keegan, S Coen, P O’Hora; P Durcan, O Mullen, M Plunkett; M Ruane, D O’Connor; B Walsh, K McLoughlin, C Loftus; T Conroy, A O’Shea, R O’Donoghue. Subs: E Hession for Plunkett (ht), J Flynn for O’Hora (52), D Coen for Walsh (58), A Orme for Loftus (65), J Carr for McLoughlin (74).
REF – J McQuillan (Cavan).