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The real Mayo stand up against Tyrone


SHARING THE MOMENT Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor, right, and Jason Doherty celebrate at the end of Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final against Tyrone. Pic: Sportsfile


Mayo    0-13
Tyrone 0-12

Mike Finnerty
Croke Park

AND breathe out.
Mayo’s route to their latest All-Ireland semi-final may have been an unusual one, but after six games their slow-burning summer finally caught fire last Saturday and they now find themselves back in a familiar situation again.
A sixth successive appearance in the last four of the championship was earned after their best performance under Stephen Rochford’s stewardship as Mayo squeezed past the Ulster champions.
The scoreline tells its own story; this was tight, tense, tactical and often very tetchy as two teams with designs on winning an All-Ireland next month got up close and very personal again.
Ultimately, Mayo did just enough to book their place in a novel semi-final against Tipperary on Sunday week next as Rochford and company finished one step ahead of Mickey Harte.
The record books will show that Westport warrior Lee Keegan landed the decisive score on 65 minutes, a wonderful long-range effort that sailed high into the Croke Park sky before dropping spectacularly over the Tyrone crossbar in front of Hill 16.
That point, which unleashed an almighty Mayo roar from around the packed stadium, came roughly six minutes after Tyrone captain Seán Cavanagh had been sent off after being booked for a second time.
Between the extra man and Keegan’s score, Mayo had the Red Hands right where they wanted them, but that didn’t prevent the eventual winners from putting their supporters through the wringer over the last ten minutes.
There was nothing wrong in theory with their policy of trying to keep possession and draw Tyrone out of their defensive shape. At one stage Mayo knitted together 45 successive passes.
But they adopted the ‘keep ball’ strategy a full ten minutes from time and failed to move the ball forward through the Tyrone ranks. As a consequence Mayo ended up making a few unforced errors that handed their opponents a number of chances to snatch an equaliser.
The most nerve-shredding of these were a long-range free from goalkeeper Niall Morgan that drifted wide (after Seamus and Aidan O’Shea had failed to link up in a crowded midfield corridor) and a rushed snapshot from Darren McCurry that looped wide when David Clarke’s short kick-out didn’t reach Patrick Durcan.
Mayo were living dangerously in those final frantic, breathless minutes, but they managed to ride their luck and had just enough room to escape to victory when the final whistle sounded.
Fittingly the ball was in Lee Keegan’s hands when it was all over, the three-time All Star epitomising Mayo’s character and fighting spirit when the chips had been down.
The teams were level nine times during a fascinating battle of wits and a replay next weekend looked a distinct possibility on a number of occasions during the last quarter.
Right from the start neither side was prepared to let the other out of their sight, and the half-time scoreline of 0-7 apiece reflected the fine margins that were at play.
Mayo had sprung Alan Dillon and Jason Doherty shortly before the throw-in to catch Tyrone on the hop with Kevin Keane and Evan Regan dropping out of the team.
Dillon, in particular, made his presence count with 22 possessions in the opening half as he rolled back the years to link play and spray ball into the inside line.
Early on Aidan O’Shea also showed that he meant business, getting on ball and driving Mayo forward confidently.
He also opened the scoring on six minutes with a booming effort from 50 metres before knocking the ball down to the tireless Andy Moran for another score soon after.
Cillian O’Connor was another forward who was buzzing and he hit four points (two from play) in the opening half as Mayo made themselves comfortable.
Tyrone midfielder Mattie Donnelly was another who looked at home in that first period and he smacked over three fine points from play to keep Mayo honest.
The last of his scores came hot on the heels of a couple of Peter Harte frees and meant Tyrone led by 0-7 to 0-5 as referee David Gough pinged Mayo for tackling infringements.
It looked at that stage like Mickey Harte had got to grips with Mayo’s masterplan but a gear change or two saw Cillian O’Connor (free) and Colm Boyle fire over a couple of excellent points to leave the sides deadlocked at the break.
It was at that stage that Rochford threw Tom Parsons into the mix instead of Dillon, and the Charlestown midfielder caused Tyrone plenty of problems with his direct approach.
Mayo actually opened the second half scoring with a move from that same playbook; Aidan O’Shea grabbing the throw-in and charging all the way down to the Tyrone goalmouth before setting up Cillian O’Connor for the lead score.
Within minutes O’Connor (free) and Parsons had pushed Mayo into a 0-10 to 0-8 lead and the ball was back in Tyrone’s court.
The Ulster side were struggling to make inroads into Mayo’s well-organised defensive system as Lee Keegan tied down Seán Cavanagh, Brendan Harrison marshalled the full-back line, and Kevin McLoughlin swept everything that came his way.
However, more indiscipline when it came to tackling handed Tyrone a few opportunities and Conor McAliskey converted two frees to tie the game up again.
His colleague Peter Harte was one of Tyrone’s biggest attacking threats and it was no surprise when he managed to fire over the lead score as the pendulum swung away from Mayo again.
But they continued to stick to their game-plan and quarried out openings for Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor (free) to take the lead once more.
By that stage David Clarke had pulled off a smart save to deny McAliskey a goal that would have changed everything, but substitute Darren McCurry did slot an equaliser from a free to set up a grandstand finish.
Seán Cavanagh had departed the scene by then and, ironically, it was his man-marker Lee Keegan who arced over the winner.
The last few minutes were extremely ropey from a Mayo perspective but between Tyrone’s inability to hit the target, some old-fashioned good fortune, and David Clarke’s speed off the mark, all was well that ended well.
Six games down, two to go.

D Clarke; B Harrison, L Keegan (0-2), K Higgins; C Boyle (0-1), P Durcan, K McLoughlin; S O’Shea, A O’Shea (0-1); D O’Connor, J Doherty, D Vaughan; C O’Connor (0-7, 4fs), A Moran (0-1), A Dillon.
Subs used: T Parsons (0-1) for Dillon (h-t); C O’Shea for Vaughan (55); C Barrett for Boyle (57); E Regan for Moran (61); C Loftus for Doherty (66); S Coen for D O’Connor (69).

N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, J McMahon, R McNabb; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly (0-3); N Sludden (0-1), P Harte (0-4, 2fs), C McShane; C McAliskey (0-2, 2fs), S Cavanagh, R O’Neill (0-1, 1f).
Subs used: R Brennan for McMahon (22); D McCurry (0-1, 1f) for O’Neill (42); M Bradley for McShane (46); K McGeary for McAliskey (62); J Monroe for McNabb (65); P McNulty for Sludden (68).

Referee: D Gough (Meath)


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