Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. When Ryan O’Donoghue snatched at a handy point chance and then skewed a penalty wide minutes later, that old, terribly familiar black cloud must have loomed large on the green and red horizon once again.
As with the Meath ladies just shy of a week ago, the men from the west got the desired beginning when Aidan O’Shea grabbed the throw-in and set Tommie Conroy away to flash over the game’s opening score after less than 20 seconds. However, even then, James Horan’s team were haunted by old failings as their profligacy in front goal was ruthlessly capitalised upon by an increasingly dominant Red Hand outfit.
Scores flowed from Niall Morgan, an exquisite strike by team captain Padraig Hampsey and others from Darren McCurry, Mattie Donnelly and the imperious Kieran McGeary. The latter, like a good stayer meeting the Cheltenham hill, has come up along the rails to snatch an unassailable lead in the race for Footballer of the Year. That was the first time Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher saw their side eek out a bit of breathing space for themselves.
In the midst of the above burst, one passage of play essentially illustrated the difference between the sides. By my reckoning, Donnelly only attained one meaningful phase of possession in that spell, but a score accrued therefrom. In contrast, while Mayo’s fulcrum O’Shea got on plenty of ball but there wasn’t near enough end product from it. Those are the inches that make the difference at this level.
In their defence however, Mayo did rally with the last two scores of the first half to leave themselves trailing by same at half time. Sport has probably always been awash with cliches, but the maxim about it being a 20 man game has probably never carried as much credence as it does presently. On that score, it was felt before the game that Tyrone may have a slight edge in that department.
Even if Logan and Dooher had employed a fairytale architect, he or she could scarcely have scripted it as perfectly. It’s not all that long ago it appeared Cathal McShane would be lost to Gaelic football by the lure of the Aus$. Thankfully for Tyrone and the game as a whole, that didn’t materialise.
However, it gives you some indication of the depth of talent currently available to the O’Neill County that the red-head has had to bide his time on the bench. It says plenty about the player that he has been willing to fulfil said role and not kick up a stink. Instead letting his boots and overall football acumen do the talking.
Never more so than when McShane used his ingenuity to compound Mayo woes after O’Donoghue clattered the post with a penalty. Deftly flicking the ball to the Mayo net to leave clear water between the sides for the first time. Then you ask yourself, in any other county would Darragh Canavan be a sub? He demonstrated alacrity and knowhow which bely his paucity of experience at the highest level when he did get his chance.
As we have come to expect, Mayo again rallied. Conroy roamed out the field and pointed, Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen drove forward and did likewise. Yet they could never get to parity. Indeed, when they got it down to two points, that primal instinct which the great sides all have quickly kicked in for Tyrone.
Conn Kilpatrick pulled down a massive catch at midfield, allowing the fluidity of the team’s attack which often gets overshadowed by the intricate nature of their defensive setup, to be seen in full bloom as, fittingly, Darren McCurry applied the embellishing brush stroke to a quietly constructed masterpiece, shoveling the ball past a despairing Robbie Hennelly.
In a way, that moment was a microcosm of the glorious agony it is to be Mayo. I recall the words of Al Paccino in Any Given Sunday “On this team, we fight for that inch”. They always have done, they did here and they will do again. You cannot but admire them.