Photo: Mayo Mick
With ten minutes or so left on the clock this afternoon at McHale Park, a rather large serving of reality-check was about to be served up to us. Tactically naive and with seemingly no idea how to find a way past Tyrone’s rather old-hat but still very effective smothering blanket approach to the game, we were four down and deserved to be. A wild Aidan O’Shea shot at the target that didn’t go anywhere near the posts summed up our frustrations pretty well at that stage.
We ended up losing but what unfolded in that mad-as-a-box-of-frogs final ten minutes went some – though not all – of the way towards undoing what had been a very flat and uninspiring performance up until then. Once Keith Higgins had blasted home the goal that hauled us back into the game, we really went for the throat and two up with just seconds to go we should, of course, have held on for what would have been an undeserved but hugely amusing win. But we gave them a final chance and – literally – paid the penalty for doing so.
Having had a good, hard look at the penalty decision – made by our old pal Maurice Deegan – I have to say that it was a fair enough call. Keith and David Clarke collided with the in-rushing Tyrone forward who was felled as he tried to get his kick away. It looked like a penalty and we can’t really complain that it was given.
Photo: Mayo Mick
It wasn’t as if the ref hadn’t been charitable enough to us over the course of those frantic final moments. Sure, he should have been far quicker to book Stephen O’Neill for his time-wasting (and shouldn’t have carded Aidan) when we were four adrift but the two close-in frees he gave us after the goal were very much on the soft side of the spectrum. We’ve had other occasions to grind our teeth about Maurice Deegan’s refereeing but, to be fair to the guy, today wasn’t one of them.
There was a bit of confusion ahead of the throw-in about what our starting fifteen was going to be, with the programme showing a different line-up to the one named on Friday night. The latter team was the correct one but for the best part of an hour after the ball was thrown in it seemed as if that confusion had leached into our play.
Photo: Mayo Mick
We won plenty of ball around the middle third, we defended reasonably well (even if the half-back line have enjoyed better first halves) but we had no cutting edge up front. Tyrone dropped McNeice back as a sweeper, with the visitors defending in numbers and breaking forward with purpose. So, despite all the possession we enjoyed in the opening 35 minutes, they went in two points ahead, 0-6 to 0-4, at the break. Two of our opening half points came from play – one from Jason Doherty and the other a thumping left-footed effort from out on the wing by Lee Keegan – with our other two points coming from frees converted by Jason.
Barry Moran replaced the out-of-sorts Seamus O’Shea for the second half but as the weather began to deteriorate so too did our performance. It wasn’t as if the lads weren’t trying – Jason Doherty (who was excellent today) and Michael Conroy (who really needs to accept that that sliding along the deck routine to gather the ball isn’t one for this time of year) worked their holes off trying to punch a way through the visitors’ rearguard but were getting precious little change for their efforts.
In fairness, we started the second half a bit brighter, with frees from Jason and Kevin McLoughlin quickly wiping out the half-time deficit. Just as quickly, though, they’d got this lead back via efforts from play by Penrose and McCarron. Another free from Kevin was cancelled out by a fine point from play by McAlliskey and then when Sean Cavanagh was allowed to advance unchallenged right through the middle and thump one over we really began to look like a beaten outfit.
Enda Varley and Alan Dillon came on to replace Chris Barrett and Cathal Freeman at this stage and while both helped to put some much-needed pep in our step in the game’s final quarter, it did beg the question – as has so often been the case under James Horan – as to why we were so late making these switches. It was obvious for a good ten or fifteen minutes before this that we needed to adopt a different approach if we were to salvage something from this game and equally so that fresh legs – and fresh minds – would be required if we were to have any hopes of making this happen.
Photo: Mayo Mick
Another Kevin free cut the gap to three but when McNamee landed a real peach of a score from way out on the left and McCurry popped over a free after we’d made a balls of the kick-out the game appeared to be as good as over. Tyrone were now reverting to type with all their old time-wasting codology at every opportunity but our tactic of repeatedly taking the ball into the contact thirty and more yards from their posts played directly into their hands.
It looked like we could have been there ‘till Christmas without troubling them but in those mad, mad minutes that followed the dam finally broke and we almost bloody swallowed them. It was Jason’s quick hands that played in Keith for the goal and the Burrishoole man released Donal Vaughan – who’d come on for Colm Boyle with less than ten minutes to go – who blazed over with only the goalie to beat. It’s easy, I know, to be wise after the event but Donie had the goal at his mercy and another green flag then would surely have won the day for us.
Photo: Mayo Mick
As it was those two charitable free decisions should have been enough to seal the win and from the kick-out after Jason’s final converted free there’s simply no way we should have allowed the ball to get anyway near our posts. But Stephen O’Neill won it around the middle and Aidan hadn’t anything left in the tank to get to him in time before he launched that killer ball right into the danger zone.
In the heel of the hunt, we wouldn’t have deserved a win today and, in one sense, it’s perhaps no bad thing that we were ultimately made to pay for what was overall a very underwhelming display. There’s plenty of talent in this Mayo squad and real potential to challenge for major honours but, no more than any other team in the country, if we go out and play poorly for sixty of the seventy minutes, we’re going to get the kind of return that such lassitude merits.
It’s still only February and so there’s no point going overboard about either the good bits or the bad bits in today’s display. We’ve loads to work on as we build towards the summer and if today’s display – in particular the areas where we let ourselves down – has helped to shine a light on things we need to eradicate or improve then defeat today might ultimately prove to be of greater benefit than a get-out-of-jail win would have done. Damn it, though, it would still have been delicious to nick it in the way we looked to have done right at the death today.
Mayo: David Clarke; Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins (1-0); Tom Cunniffe, Colm Boyle, Chris Barrett; Aidan O’Shea, Seamus O’Shea; Lee Keegan (0-1), Richie Feeney, Cathal Freeman; Kevin McLoughlin (0-3, frees), Jason Doherty (0-6, five frees), Michael Conroy. Subs: Barry Moran for Seamus O’Shea, Enda Varley for Barrett, Alan Dillon for Freeman, Donal Vaughan (0-1) for Boyle.