There are days to remember and then there are days to forget when following the fortunes of the Mayo team. This one fell unambiguously into the latter category.
Everything about today was bad. The driving conditions down from Dublin – where I didn’t finally shake off the fog until the MacHale Park floodlights had almost come into view – weren’t hectic, the cold-to-the-bone chill in the weather wasn’t exactly pleasant either and Eddie Kinsella’s performance with the whistle (which didn’t, before anyone says anything, have any impact on the final result) was on the godawful side of poor. And, truth be told, our lads weren’t a whole pile better.
In retrospect, Tyrone clearly came into this one gunning for the points, which they obviously felt they needed after losing at home to Monaghan last weekend. They were up for the battle today and came with a clear game-plan – based on an ultra-defensive approach (there’s a fog-related metaphor in there somewhere but I can’t quite verbalise it) allied to rapid breaks from the back – whereas we never really showed up and never had a clear idea of how to proceed when faced repeatedly with 15 men between them and the posts.
The visitors were on top right from the start, McCurry clipping their opener within seconds of the throw-in. They had a second point on the board soon after but we came close to opening our account in spectacular fashion only for Michael Conroy’s dribbling shot for goal to be cleared off the line. When our opener did come it was from a free from Jason Doherty following a foul on Colm Boyle.
Tyrone kept the pressure on us, though, extending their lead to three, with a point from play by McNulty and a free from Sean Cavanagh. It was noticeable even then how easily they were able to drive through us when going forward but how tough we found it to make any progress against their congested backline.
Another chance at a goal came our way, though, when Tyrone’s keeper Morgan went wandering as far out as midfield but then his misplaced pass was intercepted and we broke quickly with Morgan frantically haring back to base. The ball was fed to Ronaldson who fired over but we should arguably have profited more from the Tyrone keeper’s wanderlust.
It looked like we were getting into the contest a bit better at this stage, with Mickey C pointing, his shot deflecting off the upright and over, from a feed by Kevin McLoughlin. That cut the gap to one but we then went over 20 minutes without scoring again.
Tyrone’s next two scores came via stupid refereeing decisions. A perfectly executed rob by us was adjudged to be a foul and Morgan drove over the long-range free. Kevin Keane then did brilliantly to dispossess Sean Cavanagh out on the wing but got penalised, with the ball moved into scoring range when Kevin – understandably – protested. And so we were back to three in arrears once more.
We weren’t helping ourselves, though, with three bad wides, two from Donal Vaughan and one from Jason Doc as our frustration at Tyrone’s blanket led us to some daft shot selections.
Two more points for them, one from play and the second another Morgan free, this one from at least 55 yards out, saw the crowd get increasingly restless as half-time approached. One incident, where a ball into Alan Freeman on the 14 yard line ended up via a series of passes back out beyond the fifty, summed up our difficulties in coming to grips with Tyrone’s blanket.
We eventually got our fourth point, right on half-time, when Jason was fouled as he tried without success to punch through the cover and Kevin Mc popped over the free.
It was also from a free that we opened our second half account, with Donie raiding forward from the throw-in and after he was fouled Doc stroked the free over. Our third goal attempt came soon after, when Aidan O’Shea – who’d lined out instead of his injured brother Seamus – intercepted a handpass out of defence and bore down on goal. He shot too soon and from too far out and Morgan was equal to it. With a man in the clear to his left, Aidan could and should have made more of the chance.
The next score came at the other end, though, when they burst quickly and carved us open for an easy point. This was followed by a score of the cute hoor variety with the Tyrone attacker fooling Kinsella into thinking that a dive was a drag-down. When we gave the ref lip the ball was once again moved up, with the free tapped over.
Our first switches came then, with Colm Boyle surprisingly withdrawn in favour of Patrick Durcan and a big roar greeted the announcement that Cillian O’Connor was also coming on, the All-Star forward replacing Mark Ronaldson.
We had to make another change soon after when Aidan followed through on Morgan after he’d made a clearance. It was a foul, for sure, it was definitely a yellow and a picky ref might even have gone for red. But no way was it one of the specified black card offences, which, of course, made it no surprise that this was the one that Kinsella went for. Aido was replaced by Barry Moran.
Just after Aidan’s departure, we finally broke through the suffocating cover. I didn’t see that much of it but I do know that it was Cillian who scored the goal. Now just two points down with twenty minutes left to play, it looked for the first time as if we might carry the day.
The next score was going to be absolutely crucial and to keep the momentum going we needed to get it. Another wide, this one from Doc way out wide, was another chance spurned but then Tyrone broke and cut us open for the decisive score, finished by Peter Harte as we got caught out in a 2 v 1 situation at the back.
And that, to be honest, was that. Plenty of those in the 9,555 attendance were already making their way towards the exits as we got our two final scores of the day, both long-range placed balls scored by Cillian, the second from a fifty. It’s been a while since I last saw MacHale Park starting to empty before the final whistle was blown.
There were precious few positives from our perspective from today. Tactically, we were out-thought and physically we were out-run and out-fought for most of the seventy minutes. We lost midfield, we lost all the dirty ball around the middle and we hadn’t the first idea how to deal with their crowded backline. And we shot a bagful of wides – fifteen, I think, was the official tally.
Very few of the lads stood out today, with David Clarke, Michael Hall, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins, Stephen Coen, Kevin McLoughlin, Michael Conroy and Cillian O’Connor the ones that I felt did best on the day.
So, plenty of lessons to be learned from today following what was, in every sense, a fairly strong reality-check for us. Instead of heading into the three-week break thinking we’re great lads altogether, we’re now left instead to ponder on everything we got wrong today and what we need to do when Monaghan come to town at the end of the month. That one won’t be any easier but we know we’ll definitely have to perform better the next time we take the field.
Mayo: David Clarke; Michael Hall, Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Stephen Coen, Colm Boyle; Aidan O’Shea, Donal Vaughan; Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin (0-1, free), Jason Doherty (0-2, frees); Michael Conroy (0-1), Alan Freeman, Mark Ronaldson (0-1). Subs: Patrick Durcan for Boyle, Cillian O’Connor (1-2, a free and a ’45) for Ronaldson, Barry Moran for Aidan O’Shea (black card), Mikey Sweeney for Freeman, Ger Cafferkey for Keegan, Alan Dillon for Doherty.