THERE is nothing quite like a one point defeat at this time of the season to stoke debate and prompt conjecture, especially when it’s Mayo that end up on the wrong side of that fine line.
James Horan left us in no doubt after last Sunday’s match that he wasn’t happy with what he had seen, and the final scoreline fails to mask the issues that will surely lead to some constructive criticism behind closed doors later this week.
“We didn’t play smart today at all, in the entire game,” he said matter-of-factly afterwards. “We were too slow moving the ball from midfield, Tyrone were dropping guys back, and we played right into their hands for a large part of that game.
“You can’t play for ten minutes and expect to win a National League game. We didn’t deserve to win the game. We could have snatched it, but didn’t.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
On a day when Mayo didn’t hit most of their own individual and collective targets, this game seemed to be tapering to a very inevitable conclusion as an impressive Tyrone led by four points with three minutes of normal time remaining.
At that stage there seemed to be little doubt that Mickey Harte’s side were going to be handsomely rewarded for their professional performance, which was built on a superbly organised and disciplined defensive effort.
However, a late Mayo rally meant that there was no rhyme or reason to the grandstand finish that ensued and Tyrone talisman Stephen O’Neill needed to hold his nerve five minutes into injury-time to convert a penalty that finally settled the issue.
The final whistle followed soon after and was greeted by a great roar of relief by the travelling Tyrone supporters while the large partisan home crowd were stunned into silence.
The 67th minute was where the fun and games began.
Some Mayo fans had given up the ghost by that stage, heading for the exits as they resigned themselves to a defeat.
However, Keith Higgins had other ideas and the All Star defender joined the attack to take a slick pass from Jason Doherty and crack in a brilliant goal to turn the game on its head.
Seconds later Donal Vaughan, who made a big impact off the bench, raced through to fire over the equaliser.
Tyrone, who had been rocked back on their heels, then watched in amazement as Mayo sub’ Alan Dillon and Jason Doherty engineered a couple of frees which Doherty converted to nudge the homeside into a lead they really didn’t deserve.
But there was to be one last twist in the tale, and it originated from one of Tyrone’s most impressive performers, Stephen O’Neill, who had gone to midfield during the final quarter in an effort to curb the influence of the marauding Aidan O’Shea.
O’Neill’s booming delivery was hit towards the Mayo square more in hope than confidence but, in the scramble that followed, Mark Donnelly was held back as he pulled on the loose ball.
Referee Maurice Deegan arrived to award the penalty and we were in the 40th minute of the half when O’Neill stepped up to drill the kick past Mayo captain David Clarke.
Remarkably, there was still time for Donal Vaughan to almost land an equaliser but his shot tailed wide, and Tyrone had got what they came for.
The visitors set out their stall from the off, and with wing-forward Patrick McNiece operating as a sweeper, they held Mayo to just one point between the 14th minute and half-time.
The homeside had started well, leading by 0-3 to 0-1 early on as Jason Doherty (2) and Lee Keegan posted scores.
But Tyrone pulled down the shutters at that juncture and, allied to some incisive attacking by Seán Cavanagh, Conor McAliskey and Peter Harte, were 0-6 to 0-4 up at the break.
Mayo did draw level early in the second half as top scorer Jason Doherty (who finished with six points) and Kevin McLoughlin tagged on frees, but the All-Ireland finalists never looked comfortable.
Tyrone got their second wind to kick six of the next eight points in a dazzling twenty-minute spell.
But that was before the game took on a life of its own, and the DVD will make for interesting viewing among Team Mayo this week.
D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins (1-0); C Boyle, T Cunniffe, C Barrett; A O’Shea, S O’Shea; L Keegan (0-1), R Feeney, C Freeman; K McLoughlin (0-3, 3fs), J Doherty (0-6, 5fs), M Conroy.
Subs used: B Moran for S O’Shea; E Varley for C Barrett; A Dillon for C Freeman; D Vaughan (0-1) for Boyle.
N Morgan (0-2, 2fs); A McCrory, Justin McMahon, C Gormley; R McKenna, Joe McMahon, R McNamee (0-1); C Clarke, S Cavanagh (0-2, 1f); P McNiece, P Harte (0-2), P Kane; C McAliskey (0-1), S O’Neill (1-1, 1-0pen), Mark Donnelly.
Subs used: C McCarron (0-1) for Gormley (inj); M Penrose (0-1) for Kane; D McCurry (0-1, 1f) for Harte; J Lafferty for McNiece; R O’Neill for Clarke.
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)