There I was, ten minutes into the second half of today’s All-Ireland minor football semi-final, starting to think idly about who I could tap up for a ticket for the final. Cillian O’Connor had just stroked over our fourteenth point of the day to send us seven clear and it looked then as if we were going to thump a strangely one-dimensional and ineffective Tyrone team. Twenty minutes later, however, we were left surveying the wreckage from yet another Mayo loss at HQ as Tyrone engineered a devastating fightback to beat us by 3-10 to 0-16, thus bringing an emphatic end to our 2010 inter-county season.
How did it happen? Well, their two goals that came in the 42nd and 48th minute respectively obviously turned the game on its head. We could still have won the match even after they got the second one but by then Tyrone had the bit between their teeth and our lads’ heads had started to drop. We did manage a late fightback and had Danny Kirby’s injury-time goal attempt come off, we could have snatched a draw so, on this occasion at least, we went down fighting.
But, of course, we shouldn’t have gone down at all. Coming into the match we were rank outsiders but you’d never have thought that by the way we took command of proceedings in the opening half. We were three up inside five minutes – courtesy of a point from play by Jack McDonnell and two Cillian O’Connor frees – but they then knocked over 1-3 without reply to go a goal clear on 17 minutes. We then took complete control and a series of excellent points from play from Cian Costello, Michael Forde, Darren Coen (two), Cillian O’Connor and Jack McDonnell gave us a four-point cushion going in at the break.
At that stage, our lads’ high workrate, their utter dominance around the middle and their keen eye for scores meant that we looked more likely to prevail. Tyrone, by contrast, wedded as they were to a robotic, keep-ball approach, didn’t look like a side that was going to trouble us, regardless what the bookies had said in advance. On the contrary, I felt that if anyone was going to do damage in the second half, it’d be our lads.
We started brightly after the break too, with further points from Cillian O’Connor (two), Darren Coen and Jack McDonnell as we surged seven clear. Their sole reply in this period, a point from Richard Donnelly, was their first for all of 17 minutes but it was obvious then that they’d need a few green flags if they were to rescue the game.
There’s no way we should have lost the match from there but, of course, lose it we did. The first of their two second half goals wasn’t fatal and we could easily have righted the ship and driven for home again. The second was, though, and the galling thing about it was that we should have had a free out around the middle in the run-up to it. Jack McDonnell was bundled over right in front of the ref but Rory Hickey inexplicably waved play on and Tyrone surged forward to bag their third goal of the day.
By the time Cillian O’Connor claimed our fifteenth point five minutes from time, they’d hit us with 2-4 without reply in what proved to be a devastating match-winning spell. We did mount a late frantic effort to rescue the game but to no avail and so our hopes of a third successive All-Ireland minor final appearance came to naught.
And then, just to put the tin hat on it, the Dubs contrived to lose the senior semi-final to Cork in a match where they led for all but the last few minutes. The little lad bawled his eyes out afterwards, the pain of defeat no doubt accentuated by the fact that Dublin had looked more likely to win for most of the seventy minutes but had victory snatched from them at the death.
And so, after the tears had dried, we were left with yet another weary walk away from Croke Park to do, with another year of footballing disappointment chalked down. The Dubs can at least be happy that their fortunes are on the rise again and we can, I suppose, console ourselves with the proposition (which may not be valid) that the only way for us is up. The minors put up a good show for much of today, though, and they provided further proof that there’s a good talent pool coming through. Overall, however, 2010 has been a year to forget for Mayo supporters and we can only hope for better times to come in 2011.