We’re not safe yet but, whatever about that, the lads showed – like they did in Round 6 last year – that they’re far from finished. On a day borrowed from summer up in Healy Park, Stephen Rochford’s team put in their best performance of the year to prevail over the home team by the narrowest of margins. As well as the encouraging display, the lads came away from Omagh today with two precious League points.
For the second Sunday in a row my own commitments up here on the day meant that I had to watch this one on the box. That was a nerve-jangling enough experience and I can only imagine what it would have been like for the faithful who did get to Omagh. Which, I’m hearing, they did in large numbers and the win they got to savour no doubt made the journey fully worthwhile.
Even before throw-in today it was clear we were going to be a changed animal compared to last weekend. I’d heard whispers yesterday about the two changes to our named team that we unveiled before throw-in – with Shane Nally and David Drake starting in place of Conor O’Shea and Evan Regan – and so was expecting to see an approach at the other end of the spectrum to the devil-may-care outlook we’d adopted against Cavan.
Over the course of a cagey opening twenty minutes – in which the TV stats showed we had 60% possession – it was already obvious that this was going to be a very tactical tussle. We moved the ball around with authority, probing patiently for openings, while the home team were largely content to soak up the pressure and then hit us on the break.
Paddy Durcan burst through for the game’s opening point but they hit back with points from play from McCurry and Bradley. Shane Nally, off that sweet left peg of his, smacked over a cracker off the outside of his boot wide on the left to level things up.
Kevin McLoughlin and Niall Sludden then traded points but soon after the Tyrone’s centre-forward’s day came to a sudden end when he was ordered off on a black card for a drag down. It looked a bit harsh, to be honest, and he was a big loss for them.
Cillian pointed the resultant free from long-range but Tyrone had the better of the exchanges for the next while. Two more points from play – from McGeary and McCurry – put them back in front and then we suffered a significant blow when Lee Keegan got his marching orders on a black card.
You could, I suppose, argue that what he did wasn’t really a black card offence at all but a player as prominent as Lee should have known better to commit himself in the way that he did. As happened in the replayed All-Ireland final last year, Stephen Coen came on for the banished Westport player.
Sean Cavanagh knocked over the free awarded for Lee’s black card foul, Tyrone’s first placed ball score of the day. Two to the good now, the Red Hands appeared to be gaining ascendancy in this contest.
We altered that narrative, however, with a superb goal. Cillian picked out Andy Moran with a glorious long ball and Andy – who frequently, often with justification, is criticised for trying to do it all himself – offloaded sharply to the in-rushing Tom Parsons. The midfielder steadied himself and lashed the ball into the corner of the net.
We followed this up with a point from play from Cillian, who gathered the ball, turned and boomed it over the bar. Now we were the ones with our tails up.
Bradley cut the gap back to one, selling Colm Boyle with a glorious dummy before firing over. Paddy replied in short order at the other end before Sean Cavanagh closed out a frantic few minutes with a quality score on the run to leave a point between the sides at the break.
We left the Tyrone lads cooling their heels for a while before we came back out for the second half. Once the game got underway again it was Tyrone who had the greater urgency, our lads now the ones who were happy to put up the defensive shield and let the home team take the contest to us.
Almost nine minutes would pass before the first white flag was waved after the break. Both teams missed scoring chances before eventually McGeary pointed from distance to level the game.
By now, we’d made our first non-enforced switch. Fergal Boland, who struggled to get into the game and had the ball turned over on him a few times after the break, was wisely taken out of the firing line. Diarmuid O’Connor (surely not 100% fit?) came on for the Aghamore man.
Chris Barrett’s perseverance in chasing down a ball that was no better than a 40:60 one won a ’45 for us. Cillian – far better today from placed balls – nailed it to edge us back in front.
We suffered a second black card blow when Danny Kirby, chopping down forcefully with the hand, brought one of the Tyrone lads to the floor. We could have no real complaints about that one either. Donal Vaughan joined the fray in place of Danny.
Niall Morgan trotted up from the far end to slot over the free to level the match up once again. Tyrone got the next score too, from Tiernan McCann, to get their noses back in front.
Our next switch saw Andy called ashore, with Aidan O’Shea – making his first appearance of the year – coming on to give McCarron something new to think about. McCarron had been all over Andy like a rash – incredibly avoiding any sanction from card-happy ref Conor Lane in the process – and it was a clever move, despite Andy’s ball-winning skills, to try a new outlet in there.
A free from out on the right by Cillian drew us level. Mattie Donnelly should really have gone on black soon after when a nice crossfield move, Aidan recycling the ball which was then fed to the left, ended with David Drake bursting goalwards before being hauled to the floor. No card of any kind ensued but Cillian pointed the fourteen yard free and we were back in front.
Tyrone poured forward in search of the equaliser. They missed a few chances before Bradley, coming round on the loop, fired over to square the game up with 13 minutes left on the clock.
From there to the end, it was tight and tough, the tension ratcheting up that little bit more with each passing minute. Tyrone looked to have greater purpose about them and seemed destined to land the score (or scores) that would see them home. Having put in an enormous shift, our lads looked out on their feet and seemed to be hanging on for dear life.
Into injury time, though, and we were still hanging in there. Then, with three minutes of added time played, we sunk the dagger with Kevin McLoughlin breaking free and firing over the game’s winning score.
In the game’s dying moments, it all got messy, madcap and more than a little ugly. Tom Parsons won a monstrous turnover off Sean Cavanagh and then Cilllian O’Connor got taken out by a sly, cowardly and truly vicious hit by sub Harry Loughran.
Cillian didn’t seem to know what day of the week it was, Donie – the victim of an earlier off-the-ball hit – was similarly in La-La Land. Conor Lane – so content all day to dish out the cards – now failed to deal with this home town thuggery in the way that it merited.
Eventually things calmed down again and Tyrone made one last attempt to grab something tangible from the game. David Clarke claimed with authority a shot in that might have been a pass or an attempt at the posts and, as he cleared his lines with no little aplomb, the final whistle sounded. Yet another important win over Tyrone was in the bag, our first at Healy Park in the League since back in 2010.
In the lead-up to today’s game, I felt that the performance we were able to put on would be of equal, if not greater, important to the result. It’s fairly satisfying, then, to look back on what was undoubtedly our best display of the year, one that was – just about – good enough to take the spoils as well.
While far from a perfect showing, there was much to be encouraged about today. Tactically we finally showed a bit of cop-on – we came with a clear game-plan, one that gave us the best possible chance of taking something from this match. Defensively we were solid and, for the most part, well disciplined and in attack we did well to take most of the chances that came our way.
Set against that, many of our attacking thrusts broke down, with plenty of ball coughed up and forwards forced down cul-de-sacs out wide. Then again, we gave their attack a tough time too, forcing them to shoot rather wildly from bad positions, and they racked up seventeen wides in the process.
So on we go to next Sunday’s final round of games with our destiny firmly in our own hands. We could still go down – and will if we lose to Donegal and Cavan beat Roscommon – but if we draw with or beat Donegal at MacHale Park we’ll be safe, regardless of how Cavan fare at Hyde Park.
After what has been in large part a turbulent League campaign for us, a win over Rory Gallagher’s resurgent team would – as well as guaranteeing top tier survival – be the perfect way for us to sign off for the spring and point the way towards the peaks that once again await to be scaled in the summer.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett; Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan (0-2); Tom Parsons (1-0), Danny Kirby; Fergal Boland, Cillian O’Connor (0-5, three free and a ’45), Shane Nally (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin (0-2), Andy Moran, David Drake. Subs: Stephen Coen for Keegan (black card), Diarmuid O’Connor for Boland, Donal Vaughan for Kirby (black card), Aidan O’Shea for Moran, Jason Doherty for Drake, Conor O’Shea for Nally.
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Tyrone?
- Tom Parsons (40%, 326 Votes)
- David Clarke (20%, 163 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (10%, 80 Votes)
- Shane Nally (9%, 71 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (6%, 52 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (4%, 33 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (4%, 31 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (2%, 19 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 10 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (1%, 10 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (1%, 6 Votes)
- David Drake (1%, 6 Votes)
- Fergal Boland (0%, 4 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (0%, 3 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 3 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (0%, 2 Votes)
- Andy Moran (0%, 2 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 2 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (0%, 1 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 825