Joe Brolly: A negative and boring display from a rigid Tyrone, a display of class from colossus O'Shea
Published 07/08/2016 | 17:00
On the morning of the match, I got a text from Terry Jennings, a fanatical Dublin supporter and St Vincent's man. "A few of the lads are meeting in Gill's for a few pints at four. You up for it?" "You may not be aware of this Terrence," I texted back, "but there is a game on before the Dublin match." "Who's playing?" he texted back.
The 4.0 start being too late for me, I met up with some of my old Derry comrades in Kavanagh's at 2.0. Two pints is the maximum happiness for any human being, especially if you have to sit through a Tyrone game. Two pints later, I was sitting in the Hogan Stand feeling a happy glow.
If we thought either team was going to go for it, we were disappointed. Aidan O'Shea didn't start at full-forward, Tyrone played with one forward, Mayo with two, so the game quickly fell into a thoroughly modern coma. A thought bubble appeared above the stadium containing the words, 'Oh crap, here we go again'.
After about ten minutes, Aidan went to full-forward and, from there, he began to dictate the game. In fact, he dictated the game from there until the end with a simply immense performance.
In The Field, when Bull McCabe's idiot sidekick gets excited by his master's prowess, he roars: "You're the bull, you're the bull, you're the bull." The attendance at Croke Park must have felt like shouting that at O'Shea, such was his combination of power, skill, judgment and courage. From his first possession, he won a long, difficult ball then turned it over.
For the next two he caught great balls and created two easy points from play. For the next, he harried the Tyrone full-back into fumbling the ball over the sideline. From that sideline, Andy Moran took possession and pointed. For the fifth possession, he won a long ball, shrugged his man to the ground and, in the clear, missed an easy point chance.
Tyrone were locked into their 1-13-1 formula and made very little headway, save for a few speculative long-range points and a series of very soft frees that enraged the crowd. "The fucking officials are afraid of Mickey Harte," roared a Mayo man behind us, prompting great laughter.
Mayo guarded against Tyrone counter-attacks by keeping two of their spare defenders back at all times, leaving them four v two, or often four v one on Tyrone's forwards, or lone forward. Tyrone moved the ball laterally and slowly. They eventually replaced Ronan O'Neill, who they never kicked the ball into, with Darren McCurry, who they never kicked the ball into either.
They were level at half-time at 0-7 to 0-7, but Mayo ought to have been ahead. I ran into Jack O'Shea in the loo.
"What do you think, Jacko?" I asked, genuflecting.
"Awful shite" he said, "awful."
"Sure the country fell in love with handpasses because of you boys," I said. At which point he punched me playfully in the stomach.
I was still gasping for breath when I ran into Niall Moyna, the sports scientist.
"What do you think, Niall?"
"Fascinating" he said, "fascinating." That's the difference between a great musician and a music teacher. Or a great poet and a professor of poetry. One sees beauty and romance and heroism in the world.
The other analyses and deconstructs it until it bores us senseless.
Big Aidan continued to be utterly dominant in the second half, starting with the throw-in, which he caught beautifully over Colm Cavanagh before knocking him to the ground, rumbling straight through the Tyrone defensive hordes and laying it off to Cillian O'Connor for the simplest tap-over.
The other notable feature of the game was Lee Keegan's annihilation job on Seán Cavanagh. Sean loves to get free around the middle third then burst onto the ball. Lee man-marked him to death, then broke him entirely by breaking forward, leaving him trailing in his wake. In the first half, Seán got two fleeting touches, the first after five minutes. The second in the 38th. At the start of the second, they wrestled and got yellow cards. Keegan has astonishing mental strength and drove upfield thereafter for two simply brilliant points - the first from an acute angle on the left off the instep of the right. The second from an acute angle on the right off the instep of his left. When Cavanagh was eventually sent off on a second yellow, it was an act of mercy.
Tyrone got what they deserved for a thoroughly negative and boring performance. Only Mattie Donnelly (who was superb until he injured his leg in a challenge with Seamus O'Shea) and Peter Harte played with the necessary ambition. They were locked into their rigid formula throughout and even at the end, when they needed an equalising score, they retained their 12-man defence. From the 69th to the 71st minutes, Mayo simply passed the ball about in their defensive area.
The final act of the game was fitting. The Mayo keeper, looking for a safe haven for the last kick-out, lofted it towards Aidan O'Shea. The giant genius rose into the air, cushioned the size five safely in those huge hands, passed it on - and that was that.
I should have gone to Gill's, but I would have missed meeting Jacko. Not many men can boast they've been punched in the stomach by the greatest footballer who ever lived.
Sunday Indo Sport