Tyrone survive as Mayo slip out on a day of half-truths

Conor McKenna celebrates scoring Tyrone's first goal as Conor Loftus looks on. Photo by Piaras Ó Mi­dheach/Sportsfile.
Conor McKenna celebrates scoring Tyrone's first goal as Conor Loftus looks on. Photo by Piaras Ó Mi­dheach/Sportsfile.

Allianz Football League Division One: Mayo 1-19 Tyrone 3-14

THEY say the league table never lies, and that is true. But the games tell us only half-truths.

Seven days after Mayo annihilated Galway and Tyrone were overpowered by Donegal, the two produced a game not only out of keeping with those results but their own recent joint history.

It was a one-point affair, as it normally is, but in a month of Sundays you wouldn’t harvest a thought that these two would produce 4-33 between them in 70 windswept minutes.

Perhaps there’s some evidence now of an improving Mayo attack, having hit 3-23 and 1-19 in their two games. But the theory will only be truly tested when they meet Roscommon and possibly Galway down the line.

Tyrone are in Ballybofey again next Sunday with their tails back up, knowing they will face a Donegal defence that will offer them a mere fraction of the space they had yesterday.

The fact that Mayo decided to operate without a sweeper in the first half, when they were trying to play through a gale, suggested that they had eyes on a bigger picture.

After 23 unbroken years in Division One, their cut was not that of a team that felt it desperately needed to make it 24.

And they paid for it, in that sense. Because while the first quarter was theirs in the way that they broke the Tyrone press and cut through, the hosts were so bare at the back that they were bound to get caught eventually.

There were goal chances being created at either end.

The difference was that Tyrone took theirs.

Niall Morgan, who was again operating as an effective pseudo-sweeper at times when Tyrone had the wind, had to be alert to deny Bryan Walsh and watched as Darren Coen whizzed an effort past his far post.

Tyrone were 0-5 to 0-4 ahead when the teams came to the sideline for a sip. When they reset, Niall Morgan blazed the kickout 80 yards on top of Conor McKenna, who was physically too much for Kevin McLoughlin.

The water-break has become a pivotal point in games already. So often we see momentum swing rapidly on the resumption, and it did so again yesterday.

The ball bounced and bobbled until Mattie Donnelly slid the pass through soccer-style for McKenna, now in behind, to gather, step on to his left and beat the wrong-footed David Clarke.

Peter Harte added two quick points and the one-point gap was six.

Tyrone had seen the space and were starting to profit. Harte got in behind on one of his scores, occasionally operating out of full-forward.

McKenna had spilled the ball with an earlier chance, Mattie Donnelly fired over when he got in on goal too, and then Darragh Canavan took a long ball on the half-turn. Oisin Mullin did his best to foul but the young Errigal Ciaran forward wasn’t to be stopped, beating the best shot-stopper in the land from 15 yards.

2-9 to 0-7 up at the break, Tyrone did naturally retreat. They still carried an edge on the counter but they stopped stepping up on Mayo’s kickouts to any great degree, feeling it a needless risk.

For a while, they were comfortable. Ronan McNamee had Aidan O’Shea in a lasso, helped by the deeper shape that supported him well in the second half. The clamour for O’Shea to play full-forward could die a very quick death again after this.

Alongside him, though, was young Tommy Conroy, who will almost certainly have his name on a championship teamsheet now. He took a variety of markers, from Liam Rafferty to Michael McKernan to Hugh Pat McGeary, and gathered up 1-4 for himself.

His pace was a real issue for Tyrone all day and it was the goal that set the game down a path of contention once more. Rafferty slipped and Conroy not only cut straight for goal, but kept his head to step inside when Morgan narrowed his angle.

Ryan O’Donoghue came off the bench and was another injection, while Fionn McDonagh helped steady the midfield battle for a team that was without Cillian O’Connor after he failed a late fitness test.

In the first half, Tyrone had hemmed Mayo in by targeting David Clarke’s kickouts. They forced errors and they worked scores.

None bigger than the third goal, which was poached by Conor McKenna. Even though he slipped, and even though his shot was buried straight at Clarke, it found its way in at the near post.

Yet even the value of those restarts seemed like a lie in the context of next weekend because when the ball was hit out long, Brian Kennedy was the only real fighting chance the Red Hands seemed to have.

Kieran McGeary, in arguably his best game for a couple of seasons, had kicked a brilliant point before the goal and Tyrone looked home (though anything but dry, or warm) at 3-10 to 0-10 up.

Mayo started to chip though, built on Tyrone’s struggle to get beyond midfield on their own ball. Crucially, when the Red Hands did win one, they went at it. They only had eight significant attacks in the last 25 minutes, but scored off four of them.

Twice towards the very end Mayo brought it back to a point and Tyrone were down to 14 for all but the last few seconds after a Conor Meyler black card.

But James Horan’s side couldn’t fashion the equaliser, with O’Donoghue’s inexperience showing when he carried the last ball down a dead-end rather than recycling it.

The league’s truth is that Mayo are gone and Tyrone are safe.

You hope the championship is as open, sweeperless and fast-flowing.

To say you expect that it will could only be a lie.


Mayo: D Clarke; O Mullin, S Coen; P Durcan (0-1), E McLoughlin (0-1), K McLoughlin, L Keegan; M Ruane (0-1), C Loftus (0-1); D O’Connor (0-1 free), M Moran, B Walsh; T Conroy (1-4), A O’Shea, D Coen (0-5, 0-3 frees)

Subs: R O’Donoghue (0-2) for Moran (HT), F McDonagh for Walsh (HT), P O’Hora for K McLoughlin (56), J Durcan (0-3 frees) for D Coen (56), P Towey for E McLaughlin (75)

Yellow card: F McDonagh (74)

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan (0-1), R McNamee, HP McGeary; T McCann, L Rafferty, M O’Neill; B Kennedy, M Donnelly (0-2); P Harte (0-3), C McKenna (2-2, 0-1 free), C Meyler, K McGeary (0-1); D Canavan (1-1), D McCurry (0-4 frees)

Subs: F Burns for O’Neill (32), K Coney for Kennedy (49), N Sludden for Canavan (63), N Kelly for HP McGeary (67), R O’Neill for McCurry (75)

Yellow cards: F Burns (52), K McGeary (68), T McCann (73)

Black card: C Meyler (65-75)

Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh)