Five down, one to go
Big second half surge sees Mayo into final
HERE we go again.
Twelve months after departing Croke Park bloodied but unbowed, this group of Mayo footballers will get another opportunity to leave their legacy. They have earned their shot at redemption, and plotted a course back to the only day that really matters to them and us.
Last Sunday they passed the test we have been waiting for all summer, making light of a standing start to recover their composure and carve out a relatively comfortable victory, their fifth in straight succession.
In the process they have guaranteed us another All-Ireland Final Sunday adventure, and allowed us to dream about the long-awaited happy ending.
Right now, the possibilities are endless.
Unfortunately, this latest semi-final success (Mayo’s seventh in nine attempts since 1989) has come at a cost with Cillian O’Connor’s season seemingly over after a recurrence of his troublesome shoulder injury.
Like last year, if Mayo are to finally end the lifelong wait to make the breakthrough then they will have to finish the job without a talismanic forward.
Like last year, the group will rally again and cope with this latest setback.
The way they dealt with adversity as this semi-final unfolded last weekend will stand them in good stead too; this was a day when Mayo stood strong.
The first thirty minutes of this game of two halves was something we hadn’t seen in quite a while; Tyrone imposing their game on to Mayo remorselessly and putting them under the kind of pressure that the Connacht champions hadn’t experienced since last September.
They hassled and harried Mayo players from pillar to post, pressed and pushed defenders relentlessly, and hounded forwards into forcing shots and rushing kicks. They crowded the middle, devoured breaks, and dictated the pace and tempo of the contest.
Mayo seemed out of sorts.
It was little wonder then that the nervous energy among the huge band of Mayo fans was palpable, with Tyrone leading by 0-7 to 0-3 after half an hour when sub’ Ronan O’Neill swung over a fine score.
By that stage Cillian O’Connor had been escorted off after an innocous contest for possession in the tenth minute.
Eleven minutes later, Mayo saw an Alan Freeman goal ruled out after Maurice Deegan whistled up for a foul on the full-forward seconds before he hit the net.
At that stage it seemed like it might be one of those days.
In hindsight, the seven minutes before half-time were crucial in the final analysis.
Mayo had gone seventeen minutes without a score, and failed to register a flag from play, as Tyrone frustrated their key men consistently.
Corner-back Chris Barrett then took matters into his own hands, galloping upfield to post a couple of long-range points to get the scoreboard moving and lift the crowd.
Sandwiched in between these inspirational scores was a trademark effort from the marauding Lee Keegan, and by the short whistle the deficit had been sliced back to the bare minimum. Game on.
The interval allowed James Horan et al to refocus his troops, remind them of the key messages, and of the process they now subscribe to.
Mayo left nobody in any doubt about their intentions during the early stages of the second half as they took the initiative for the first time.
They cut loose, running at Tyrone from all angles, taking aim for the centre of the northerner’s defence in particular.
They racked up 1-4 in the space of twelve dazzling minutes, sub’ Enda Varley finally finding his range after a couple of poor first half wides to level the game for only the second time.
Then came the game’s watershed moment, the dynamic Colm Boyle being taken down in full flight and Alan Freeman dispatching the resultant penalty with conviction in the absence of O’Connor.
There were 32 minutes remaining when that ball hit the net to propel Mayo ahead for the first time, 1-7 to 0-7.
aThey never looked back.
Quickfire points from Freeman, Dillon and Robbie Hennelly (free) doubled the advantage, and from there to the finish they kept Tyrone at arm’s length.
Mickey Harte’s side had expended too much energy in that first half-an-hour while the loss of Peter Harte, Stephen O’Neill and Joe McMahon to injury also deprived them of badly-needed quality.
The records will show that Mayo shared twelve points equally with their tiring and flagging opponents in the last 25 minutes, the O’Shea brothers driving forward like battering rams with Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins also in the vanguard.
Only one point in the last ten minutes (from the influential Dillon), along with the first half malfunction, will give James Horan plenty of ammunition for his de-briefing this week.
However, that won’t change the fact that Mayo remain on course.
A Freeman 1-4 (1-0 pen, 3fs), A Dillon, L Keegan, C Barrett 0-2 each, R Hennelly (f), C O’Connor (f), K McLoughlin (f), E Varley, C Carolan, A O’Shea 0-1 each.
D McCurry 0-4 (2fs), S Cavanagh (1f), C McAliskey 0-2 each, C McGinley, S O’Neill, R O’Neill, A Cassidy, K Coney 0-1 each.
E Varley for O’Connor (11); M Conroy for A Moran (56); C Carolan for Cunniffe (58); R Feeney for Vaughan (64); B Moran for A O’Shea (68).