GAA Football

Tyrone star Kieran McGeary knows anything can happen against Mayo

Tyrone vice-captain Kieran McGeary celebrates beating Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final.
Pic Philip Walsh

IN a twist on the old moaner's complaint, Kieran McGeary can't do wrong for doing right.

Even when the Tyrone vice-captain puts a foot wrong - a rarity during this Championship campaign, hence him being voted PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month for August - it still works out well for him and his team.

Recall one of the key moments of the stunning semi-final victory over Kerry, the Red Hands' third goal, which came after a McGeary effort skewed off-target early in extra time. Seconds later the ball was in the Kingdom's net.

"Ah, I couldn't believe it," he laughs. "If you look at my reaction I actually turned around to the crowd, with big open eyes, thinking 'Did that actually happen?' You couldn't write it.

"At the tail of the post, someone was actually standing there, the fact the Kerry player maybe lost the ball in the air, Tiernan [McCann] didn't foul Jack Barry, because he could have pulled him to the ground in anticipation in trying to get it, and then for Conor McKenna to be standing there on the edge of the square nobody picking him up.

"You couldn't have written it, the way it fell in, but, look, you make your own luck I suppose."

None of that is to suggest that the Pomeroy man believes Tyrone's name is on the Sam Maguire Cup this Saturday.

Rather, add in the evidence of both All-Ireland semi-finals, of Mayo's efforts in deciders over the past decade, and Tyrone's own experience in the 2018 final, and he's convinced that anything can happen.

Basically his advice is 'don't leave early to beat the traffic'.

Especially when Mayo are the opposition.

Tyrone won plenty of plaudits for their extraordinary effort against Kerry, their desire not to be beaten, but he argues that Mayo edge them in that regard:

"Talk about a team that never gives up. We're a close second but they still pip us, I'd say."

Mayo may have lost four finals to Dublin - in 2013, 2016, 2017, and last year - but McGeary puts that into context:

"Look back at the finals and some of the footballing days out that they gave, second to none - Dublin never ran away with it on them, never, and they talk about them being the greatest team ever.

"Well, you know Mayo gave them some tough days and, believe me, they could have won those games. If anyone is kicking themselves about finals they have been in it's 100 per cent Mayo. You can't even put into words the passion and drive that they're going to be coming with. It's going to be unbelievable."

Indeed McGeary says it was fitting that Mayo finally ended Dublin's long unbeaten streak, stretching back to the start of the 2015 campaign:

"They knocked out the kingpins the last day out - and no better team to do it than Mayo. They were the team out of every county that deserved to beat Dublin, knock them out. Anyone would say that to you, a Kerryman would say that to you. It was fantastic to see them beat them, I was genuinely happy for them. Fair play to them."

The 25-year-old could easily try to burden his opponents with expectation, given that the county's wait for 'Sam' now stretches to 70 years after 10 final defeats, five of them in the last decade.

Instead, he asks: "Is that pressure, or is it added experience? That's sort of the way you have to look at it. They never looked like they were under pressure in a lot of them finals given it was the last kick of the game they got beat from.

"When you're in a final the pressure is on both teams. They have a lot of experience and it will probably stand to them. They're too good, too traditional to ever let that get in the way of their thinking process on match-day."

Yet while you have to be wary of Mayo, you can also learn a great lesson from them: "Mayo are the greatest example of showing you can get back into a game. Did you think they were down and out at half-time in the Dublin game as a lot of people did?

"If anyone has showed experience that the game is not over until the referee blows that whistle it's Mayo. In some of the games that they have played in the past people have said they have been down and out and they haven't, they've come back, and back and back…

"If you think you've a game won whether you're one point up or 10 points up against Mayo, you may keep on running because you can be rest assured there are three or four of them coming chomping at your heels."

Tyrone have only lost one final in the past quarter-century, but that 2018 loss to Dublin still hurts McGeary:

"We didn't do the business that day. We were in a good position in the early stages of that game and it annoys you when you start thinking about it because you never want to lose finals, but somebody has to lose them…

"What did we go, four up against the Dubs on an All-Ireland Final day? Then in the blink of an eye it was turned around and the game sort of ran away from us after that. To know you had it for a certain percentage of the game and then in the blink of an eye or a referee's decision it's gone from you. That's probably the one thing - that anything can happen in this final."

Much as he admires Mayo, McGeary obviously doesn't want to suffer the pain of defeat again: "It does take a long time to get over because of the effort you've put in for the full year and the rest of the team and all the sacrifices that everybody has made. It eventually hits home after.

"You get everyone saying, 'unlucky', after the last time which cushions you for a while, but it soon hits home that you got beaten in an All-Ireland Final and that's not nice at all, so it's not."

That's a wrong Kieran McGeary is determined to put right on Saturday.

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