Thursday 27 July 2017

Cavanagh leads from the front as Tyrone march on

Tyrone 0-13 Mayo 1-9

Tommy McGuigan, Tyrone
Tommy McGuigan, Tyrone

JOHN O'BRIEN

In the end Tyrone survived. Just. And in the end Mayo sank to their knees in heartbreak. Again. For the second time this summer John O'Mahony's team fought valiantly but came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard by a point.

Did we really imagine that when the All-Ireland winning manager came on board days like these would be no more? For Mayo the anguish goes on.

So often they have been the architects of their own downfall, but they could look back here at a key moment late on when the winning of the game might have been within their grasp.

Trailing by two points Conor Mortimer was bearing down on the Tyrone goal when he was fouled from behind. Mortimer had two men free inside him at the time but, to the consternation of their supporters, referee Cormac Reilly awarded the free. Mortimer kicked it and it proved to be the last score of the game.

It didn't amount anywhere near to grand larceny, though. Even in such a low-scoring encounter a team that can brag only three scorers can't have too many complaints when they come up short at the end. Mortimer chipped in with 1-4 and was blameless. Billy Joe Padden contributed two fine points in the first half. But there simply weren't enough who could hold their heads high after a breathless, tense encounter.

Ultimately it was Tyrone's will to win and their enduring fondness for the hard road that mattered most.

They began the game playing lively, fluid football and, for a time, looked like they might blitz their opponents. But they ended it in the style to which we have become so accustomed over the years, reaching an intensity that Mayo tried desperately to live with but could never eclipse.

True, Mayo did enough to expose their weaknesses but those have been glaring for some time. With Stephen O'Neill gone and Owen Mulligan still feeling his way back after injury, Mickey Harte simply doesn't have enough scoring forwards and the Tyrone manager will know the stark truth yesterday that if Sean Cavanagh hadn't had the game he had they would not still be in the All-Ireland championship.

How Harte handled Cavanagh yesterday was the difference between winning and losing the game. Cavanagh started out in a two-man full-forward line alongside Tommy McGuigan and with Colm McCullagh proving a handful in a deeper role, the Mayo defence always had a hard job on its hands trying to contain such talent.

Tyrone simply didn't capitalise on the early dominance they enjoyed. McGuigan was the chief culprit, missing a series of point-scoring opportunities as well as a goal chance that had been handed on a plate to him by McCullagh and his brother Brian. When Mortimer palmed to the net at the other end a couple of minutes later, McGuigan's profligacy came into sharper focus.

At half-time Mayo led by a point, despite being second best for most of the half, and it was then that Harte decided his formation required changing. His heart might have beat a little faster when he watched Mortimer land the first two points of the second half to stretch Mayo's lead to three. But soon his tactical acumen would reap rich reward. Cavanagh was about to seize the game by the scruff of its neck.

Shorn of so much quality up front, it is easy to see why Harte would persist with his best player in the full-forward line.

But the statistics from yesterday showed that Cavanagh scored more from midfield than he had up front in the first half and, with a bit more luck, he might have added a goal after a trademark blistering run through the defence. He looked so much happier running at anxious defenders from deep and it was simply more of a burden than Mayo required at that stage of the game.

In the 10-minutes before the hour mark, Tyrone knocked over six unanswered points, a spell of domination that effectively settled the game. To their credit Mayo tried to launch a fightback but a three-point deficit against a team that loves nothing better than a dogfight for survival proved to be one too much. The final minutes were frantic and dramatic but Mayo won and spilled possession several times without really getting anywhere near the danger zone in front of the Tyrone goal.

For Tyrone it is beginning to feel like 2005 all over again, another long, inexorable march towards September, surviving tough scrapes along the way.

Discount their spirit and sheer fortitude and they weren't very impressive yesterday but they are still there and, for Harte and Tyrone, that is all that counts.

Scorers -- Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-4 (1f), T MGuigan (2f), C McCullagh (1f) 0-2 each, R McMenamin, D Harte, E McGinley, M Penrose, B Dooher 0-1 each. Mayo: C Mortimer 1-4 (3f), A Dillon 0-3 (3f), BJ Padden 0-2.

Tyrone: J Devine; R McMenamin, J McMahon, C Gourley; D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan; R Mellon, E McGinley; B Dooher, B McGuigan, T McGuigan; J McMahon, S Cavanagh, C McCullagh. Subs: C Holmes for B McGuigan (47), M Penrose for Mellon (47), D Carlin for Harte (54), O Mulligan for T McGuigan (67), D McCaul for McMenamin (70).

Mayo: D Clarke; K Higgins, T Cunniffe, T Howley; P Gardiner, J Nallen, A Higgins; D Heaney, T Parsons; A Moran, P Harte, BJ Padden; C Mortimer, A Dillon, A Kilcoyne. Subs: T Mortimer for P Harte (ht), A Campbell for Kilcoyne (55), P Kelly for Howley (60), R McGarrity for Moran (62).

Referee: C Reilly (Meath).

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