In the depths of last winter behind closed doors at Croke Park, Mayo’s hurlers saw the Nicky Rackard Cup snatched from under their noses when two late goals for Donegal saw their the men from the hills pull off a smash-and-grab title success. There was never any danger of this happening in today’s decider, however, as the Green and Red sauntered to an emphatic 2-27 to 1-14 victory over Tyrone. It’s the second Rackard Cup title won by the county, who are now promoted to the Christy Ring Cup for 2022.
Mayo laid the platform for this win as early as the fourth minute at HQ today. Two Shane Boland frees were followed by a glorious effort from out the wing by captain Keith Higgins – who was magnificent from first to last in this game – and this was followed soon after by the day’s opening goal, scored by Seán Regan, who had the sliotar inadvertently passed to him by the Tyrone ‘keeper. Seán gratefully took possession and rattled the net.
That score put us five in front and the closest Tyrone got from then to the finish was when they narrowed the gap to three on the ten-minute mark. But the O’Neill County followed this with a barren 25-minute spell and in that period Mayo tacked on eleven unanswered points to shoot fourteen points clear, a gap the Northerners had reduced by one at the short whistle.
It wasn’t as if Tyrone didn’t have chances to narrow the gap further in that period. They did, notably when they were awarded a penalty after Michael Morley opted to take one for the team and haul down the Tyrone attacker before he got too close to goal.
The ref gave the penalty even though the offence had taken place outside the square. Casey hit it well but the sliotar was brilliantly parried by Bobby Douglas in the Mayo goal and was scrambled clear.
All the while, our scores were mounting up. Points from Adrian Phillips (whose effort initially looked to have been stopped over the bar without crossing the line but Hawkeye ruled otherwise), Keith (a ’65 followed by a free on halfway), Seán Regan, Adrian again, Conor Henry, Seán again, Adrian again, this one after a clever knock-back from Keith, and two wonderful efforts from Keith and Adrian, were among this procession of scores by us.
Tyrone really needed to up the gas after the break. In fairness to them, egged on by the supporters now taking their seats for the Ulster football final afterwards, they did just that, raising a bit of a gallop early in the second half.
The high-point of this attempted comeback was a well-taken goal by Grogan. He burst right through the middle and smacked it to the net. The gap was now down to ten points and the ever-increasing Tyrone following had something to shout about.
But our lads soon quietened the din. We responded to the goal right away with a point and after Tyrone had hacked wide a sideline cut we goaled from the restart. Bobby’s long puck-out fell kindly for Cathal Freeman who took possession at pace, drove on and lashed it to the net.
That was the game done as a contest. With our backline well on top throughout and our men first to the sliotar all over the field, we were able to control the tempo from there to the finish.
The thirteen-point lead we started the second half with was still there at the second water break. Victory and the title now assured, the lads began to relax and enjoy themselves in the final quarter, with eight more points knocked over into the Hill end before the finish. The match and the Rackard Cup were won in the end by a massive 16-point margin.
Keith Higgins has given so much to the county over a long and illustrious inter-county career but, of course, he’s given his best years to the footballers. Today must, though, have been a very proud moment for him, as he graced GAA HQ with a sublime hurling performance, after which, as team captain, he went up the steps of the Hogan Stand to accept the Nicky Rackard Cup on behalf of his county.
It was, too, a bit of a surreal moment for Mayo fans everywhere. We often have – as we know even if those from other counties don’t realise it – good days at Croke Park but we’ll be the first to admit that this rarely extends to days when there’s silverware on offer. Now, inside a period of just six days, Mayo teams have twice won a trophy at the big house. They do say these things come in threes, don’t they?
Today’s win marks a successful end to a very satisfactory year for Derek Walsh and the Mayo hurling team. After a solid National Hurling League campaign the target for the summer was to capture the Rackard Cup and earn promotion back to the Christy Ring Cup for next year. They did that in fine style today and huge congrats to them in reaching that goal.
Mayo: Bobby Douglas; Conor Daly, Michael Morley, Stephen Coyne; Gary Nolan (0-1), David Kenny, Conor Henry; John Cassidy, Seán Kenny (0-1, free); Cormac Phillips (0-1), Cathal Freeman (1-4), Seán Regan (1-3); Keith Higgins (0-7, one free one ’65), Adrian Phillips (0-3), Shane Boland (0-3, two frees). Subs: Brian Hunt for Cassidy (22-31), Pearse McCrann for Cassidy (47), Jason Coyne (0-1) for Cormac Phillips, Brian Hunt for Michael Morley, Brian Morley (0-2) for Adrian Phillips, Oisín Greally (0-1) for Boland.