There are many ways a team can lose an All-Ireland, as well we know. But when a team performs well below its potential and makes basic errors from start to finish, then defeat is guaranteed. And that’s what happened us today.
First off, though, it’s only right and proper to salute Tyrone on their All-Ireland victory. They were the better and far more composed outfit for most of the seventy minutes and they fully deserved their five-point win over us. Congrats to them on their well-merited Sam Maguire success.
From our perspective, though, we have to recognise that our error-strewn performance made Tyrone’s task far easier than it should have been. We gifted the ball to them repeatedly in the first half – most of their turnovers came via this route – and then we missed a penalty that would have put us back in front, following which we lost our composure completely, butchering chance after chance for scores that could have kept us in the hunt.
It had the feeling of a home game as we strolled down the Drumcondra Road in the bright afternoon sunshine. Most of the colour was of the Green and Red variety and the same was true inside the half-full Croke Park where we outnumbered them by at least 60:40.
We made one change before throw-in, with Oisín Mullin, as expected, lining out in place of Enda Hession.
We started very brightly. Tommy Conroy won the first ball in and swung it over with just 16 seconds on the clock. We got the next score too, with Ryan O’Donoghue popping over a close-in free after Kevin McLoughlin was fouled.
It was the perfect start for us. It gave us an ideal platform to go at them in a serious way but our failure to do this was just the first of a series of failures on our part in this game.
On the 8th minute, they were back level and four minutes later they took the lead for the first time. A few minutes after that we made a mess of the first goal chance that appeared for us, with Bryan Walsh seeing his shot blocked after which Conor Loftus kicked at it in only a half-hearted way.
Tyrone took a one-point lead into the water break, the contest at this stage conforming to the pre-match expectation that it would be tight and cagey.
We were all-square when our second goal chance appeared. The ball into Aidan O’Shea from Ryan O’Donoghue was superb, as was Aidan’s fetch but a shot he should never have taken was blocked. Tyrone went back up the field and pointed. This time it was a lead they’d never lose thereafter.
By the half-hour mark, Tyrone were three up and we were starting to bail water. Morgan belted over a ’45 to put them three clear but this came from a glorious goal chance that Tyrone missed. McCurry was in a great position and could have gathered possession but he shot soccer-style and Robbie stuck out a leg to divert it behind.
Another Ryan free cut the gap to two at the break. We’d played very poorly in the first half but I wasn’t overly concerned then, as we’d been equally bad at the same stage against both Galway and Dublin. A rousing second half and victory could well be ours.
Enda Hession came on for the second half, replacing Michael Plunkett. The intent was clear – we were going to up the gas on them as we’d done after the break in both our previous Croke Park games.
We resumed with intent too and for the first few minutes of the second half we were the ones asking all the questions. Tommy Conroy was, though, off target with a shot at goal but a better goal chance appeared soon after when we were awarded a penalty after Burns handled the ball on the ground in the midst of a goalmouth scramble.
Ryan went for height and aimed for the corner but his spot-kick was slightly overcooked and it shaved the outside of Morgan’s left post.
This was a crucial turning point in the game. Had it gone in we’d have been back in front and it was easy to imagine that we’d finally have caught fire then.
Instead, we conceded a dreadful goal at the other end five minutes later. McShane wasn’t on the field long when he got on the end of a long ball in from Meyler, getting between Oisín and Robbie to flick it to the net. Oisín’s positioning was all wrong and Robbie, perhaps sensing the danger, found himself caught in no-man’s land as McShane connected with the ball and directed it to the net.
Four down now but we still weren’t out of it. We were, though, starting to panic when chances opened up, with Bryan Walsh smashing wide from a good position when he could maybe have put it over with the hand.
Three down at the water break, we cut the gap back to two soon after. It was still there for us.
But then we conceded the second, fatal, goal. We got caught out by Morgan’s long-range restart, Kilpatrick took a superb fetch past midfield, with McKenna setting up McCurry for the palmed three-pointer.
We knew going into this final all about our past record in conceding goals and how we needed to prevent this. But this we failed to do and that, ultimately, cooked our goose today.
There was no way back for us after the second goal. Our composure now completely gone, we messed up chance after chance, as yet another final defeat hoved into view.
The changes that were crying out to be made in our misfiring attack came way too late, with James Carr not getting onto the pitch until three minutes into injury-time. It looked for all the world that we were malfunctioning off the pitch as well as of it.
The contest petered out in crushing disappointment for us. We were never going to get the goal we needed to at least give us hope and we knew this one was gone – gone like all the other ones before it – before the clock went into injury time.
Mattie Ruane’s match ended early when he got a straight red following an incident with Kilpatrick. The loss of the Breaffy man didn’t alter the result – we were already beaten by then – but it capped a miserable display all round for us in this decider.
Now’s not the time to rationalise too much about this latest final defeat. This one hurts in a different way to the others in the last decade because this time we didn’t perform at the level we needed to in order to win the game.
Why this happened is one for another day. What can be said tonight, however, is that we’ve just blown the best chance of the lot to win the bloody thing and it’s hard to know if or when such a good opportunity will come our way again.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-1, a free); Padraig O’Hora, Lee Keegan (0-1), Michael Plunkett; Paddy Durcan (0-1), Stephen Coen (0-1), Oisín Mullin; Mattie Ruane, Conor Loftus; Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Bryan Walsh; Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Tommy Conroy (0-2), Ryan O’Donoghue (0-8, seven frees). Subs: Enda Hession for Plunkett, Jordan Flynn for O’Hora, Darren Coen for Walsh, Aiden Orme for Loftus, James Carr for McLoughlin.
Who was our MOTM against Tyrone? Pick your top three performers
- Lee Keegan (39%, 1,299 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (17%, 563 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (15%, 500 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (5%, 168 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (5%, 167 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (4%, 124 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (3%, 95 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (3%, 88 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (2%, 71 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (2%, 65 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (1%, 33 Votes)
- Aiden Orme (1%, 31 Votes)
- Matthew Ruane (1%, 26 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 24 Votes)
- James Carr (1%, 23 Votes)
- Enda Hession (1%, 21 Votes)
- Darren Coen (0%, 13 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 9 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (0%, 9 Votes)
- Bryan Walsh (0%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,681