Harte left to ponder another lapse in discipline
AS triumphant Mayo trooped off the Omagh pitch yesterday, Mickey Harte was already pleading with people not to let the late dismissal of Joe McMahon overshadow what he described as "a very good game of football".
But considering Tyrone were robbed of three starters because of controversial 'retrospective' red cards, Mayo's impressive away victory was inevitably overshadowed by yet another disciplinary debate and the Tyrone manager certainly wasn't directing any Valentine's Day messages towards Croke Park.
Nearly 50 seconds into injury-time, with the home side in possession and desperately chasing an equaliser, a brief bout of relatively innocuous handbags developed in midfield.
When the dust settled, referee Jimmy White booked Mark Ronaldson for fouling Ryan McMenamin, gave McMahon a straight red for his involvement with Peadar Gardiner and threw the ball in.
"As I looked at it I certainly didn't see much difference between what happened to Ryan McMenamin and what Joe McMahon did to someone else," Harte said. "Maybe television will tell me differently when I get a good look at it, but I didn't think there was a difference of yellow and red between the two."
Oops! There it was. The dreaded T-word: television.
Once Harte had opened that particular can of worms, the questions came thick and fast about what had happened a week previously.
As always he outlined his long-standing feelings on the inconsistencies of 'trial by TV' and argued that if you overrule referees via video evidence then you must tape and examine every single match. "To do it fairly, every game in the League needs to be video-taped. If you do it with every game that's fine, I'm happy to live with that," he said.
"But at the moment that doesn't seem to be the case so therefore you're disadvantaged if your games are on live TV. The fact is that had our game not been televised live last week we would have had Conor Gormley, Martin Penrose and Justin McMahon on our team today," Harte added.
"Whether or not you think that's right or wrong is not here or there. To be fair and consistent, if you don't apply that in every game that's played then it's a wrong system."
With their three big-name suspensions Tyrone were forced into a major reshuffle before throw-in, pulling Joe McMahon back to full-back, moving Sean O'Neill to centre-back and introducing Colm Cavanagh and Eoin McCusker to the attack.
McCusker, a nephew of Peter Canavan's, obliged by forcing a goal-saving block from Keith Higgins within 10 minutes and five minutes later he was on hand to palm a ball to the net for a three-point lead.
But Mayo responded well, with Kevin McLoughlin forcing Pascal McConnell to tip over a rasping shot in their next attack.
With Alan Moran pulling the strings brilliantly up front they then went two points clear when McMenamin took down debutant Alan Freeman after 26 minutes and Mark Ronaldson tucked away the ensuing penalty as expertly as you would expect from a former schoolboy soccer international.
Mayo went in a point clear (1-6 to 1-5) at the break but should actually have been more ahead, though both sides had amassed five wides by then.
Moran gave Ryan McMenamin a terrible roasting on the Dromore defender's first day back and already seems to have established a marvellous connection with Ronaldson, who had scored 1-4 of his eventual 1-7 by half-time. Despite the date, it is safe to say Harte didn't whisper sweet nothings in his charges' ears at half-time and it worked.
Looking a lot more like their normal selves -- building from the back -- they snatched back the lead within 93 seconds of the restart with points from Tommy McGuigan and Aidan Cassidy, who, with O'Neill and Cavanagh, were some of their better players.
But what pleased Mayo manager John O'Mahony is how his side then responded. They rattled off six unanswered points in the next 18 minutes to go four points clear, with Tom Parsons and Ronaldson particularly inspirational, and Enda Varley earning and scoring good frees.
And while their attack will attract the headlines, a lot of the really heavy lifting, in tough wintery conditions, was done selfishly and brilliantly by the defence.
Corner-backs Donal Vaughan and Keith Higgins really excelled, with the latter restricting Kyle Coney to just one point (a free) and Ronan McGarrity also got through a mountain of work all around the park. That Mayo then fell asleep and allowed Tyrone get three points to leave the minimum between them and the game in the balance left O'Mahony scratching his head.
"It was a funny kind of game and I was disappointed that we didn't have the bite to get into breaking ball like we had last week," he admitted. But with a 100pc record after two games, the Mayo TD couldn't suppress a grin. "When we heard they were missing a few (suspended players) it almost put a bit of inverse pressure on us, but we didn't lose our composure," he said, looking forward to another clash with Galway in the FBD final next week and then a top-of-the-table clash with Dublin in three weeks' time.
As for Tyrone, two losses from their opening two is, in Harte's words, "not a good place to be in" so early in the season.
Scorers -- Mayo: M Ronaldson 1-7 (0-2f, 1pen), E Varley 0-2 (0-2f), K McLoughlin, T Parsons, A Moran 0-1 each. Tyrone: E McCusker 1-1, T McGuigan 0-3 (0-1f), A Cassidy 0-2, K Hughes, C Cavanagh, K Coney, P Harte, C McCullagh 0-1 (0-1f) each.
MAYO -- D Clarke; D Vaughan, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; P Gardiner, T Howley, K McLoughlin; T Parsons, R McGarrity; A Moran, S O'Shea, A Freeman; E Varley, A O'O'Shea, M Ronaldson. Subs: B Kelly for A O'Shea (43), K Conroy for S O'Shea (49), N Douglas for McLoughlin (55), M Sweeney for Freeman (67).
TYRONE -- P McConnell; R McNabb, Joe McMahon, D Carlin; D Harte, S O'Neill, R McMenamin; A Cassidy, K Hughes; E McGinley, B McGuigan, C Cavanagh; K Coney, E McCusker, T McGuigan. Subs: P Harte for Coney (55), C McCullagh for B McGuigan (55), M Swift for McNabb (64).
Ref -- J White (Donegal).