HAD Stephen O’Neill not dispatched that 74th minute penalty to snatch a victory for Tyrone, we’d be discussing Sunday’s game in an altogether different light.
The talk would be of the late comeback and Mayo’s resilience, their never-say-die spirit; coming from four points down with five minutes to go to lead by two with time almost up.
That analysis would have been wide of the mark and would have papered over huge cracks. How badly they played might be turned on its head and it could be all about how it’s a good team who can play badly and win.
O’Neill’s penalty, in itself, forced us to ask the question of how, when two points up in injury-time, Mayo allowed Tyrone a sight of a goalscoring chance.
More pertinently it brought into sharper focus the abject nature of much of Mayo’s play in the preceding hour plus of football.
Results matter, but as important are performances and learning lessons. Now’s the time to be finding out what you can and can’t do, and what individual players can and can’t do. James Horan may have learned much more about his team in this defeat than he did in last week’s victory over Kerry.
Kerry’s 0-4 total at home to Dublin puts Mayo’s win last week in a certain perspective and James Horan admitted after the final whistle on Sunday that his players hadn’t ‘played smart’.
He hit the nail on the head. Mayo lacked guile and poise and their decision-making was abject. They had plenty of blood and thunder and work-rate wasn’t a huge issue. But picking Tyrone open was beyond them time and time again.
How many times did Mayo play right into Tyrone’s hands and kick the ball down the throat of their sweeper, Patrick McNiece? How many times did a Mayo player take a play too many out of the ball? How many sloppy turnovers were Mayo guilty of?
Too many to expect to deserve anything from the game.
Tyrone’s game-plan isn’t a new one and it’s the type of system Mayo will need to figure out if they are going to make progress this year.
Inside men Jason Doherty and Michael Conroy were pulling their hair out. We viewed them in the second half from behind the Bacon Factory goal and their runs were constant but the ball was either too slow coming in, too poor a ball coming in, or both.
How many times did we see a Mayo player kick hopefully rather than confidently?
Mayo won plenty of primary possession with a strong midfield display but Tyrone were so much more effective on the ball. Their pressure game was impressive and had Mayo in huge difficulty.
Mayo tried, but they didn’t think. Too often they tried to use a sledgehammer to open the safe when what was needed was a locksmith. Someone to get on the ball, play with their head up and pick out a good, early pass. The game was crying out for the influence of someone like Alan Dillon. His importance to Mayo was underlined by his absence.
How do you beat Tyrone? Quick ball is one way. Quick runners is another.
Lord knows Mayo have plenty of them but trouble is that was Plan B, used only after all else had failed and those runners invariably met a wall of Tyrone jerseys who had been afforded the time to get back.
Keith Higgins’ goal was a bolt from the blue. That many Mayo supporters were on the way out of the ground tells you as much. It wasn’t a score that was ‘coming’.
If Mayo want to take positives, how they pushed on from there was somewhat uplifting.
But then they conceded a late goal when they should have been able to close the game out. Losing is never an ideal outcome but if it helps to highlight problems, James Horan and co might be grateful for it in time.
But there’s work to be done on the basis of what we saw on Sunday.