Resilient Mayo show 'patience' to hit open road
Mayo 0-13 Tyrone 0-12
From the floor came a bouquet tossed to Stephen Rochford with an attachment that suggested that they had got a particular element 'tactically' right.
"Thanks, replied the Mayo manager. "That's the first time that has been said to us all year. That's a home call."
The compliment-question had indeed come from a Mayo voice at the post-match press conference, but Rochford's reaction still spoke volumes.
This has been a challenging season on so many fronts, the dearth of evidence that tangible improvement was being made bringing subtle changes and the stewardship of the team into sharper focus.
Kevin McLoughlin's switch to a sweeping role has particularly occupied the forensic squad's time.
But being on the right side of the finest of fine margins now casts everything in different light. That the sides were level nine times in a game that produced just 25 points illustrates how fine it was. Never was any lead beyond two points.
Mayo have staggered and stuttered this season but, after half a summer trekking back roads, they have found a decent stretch of motorway and the traffic has receded.
The question of resolve was answered emphatically here. Mayo have delivered better performances on this stage and beyond in Croke Park, but smarter or even bigger given the circumstances they found themselves in? Maybe not.
Justin McMahon's withdrawal 22 minutes in was early evidence of Mayo's more astute approach as they managed to bypass Tyrone's significant aerial screen.
Aidan O'Shea moved between the lines to exert a strong influence, McLoughlin pushed forward more than any previous game, while Lee Keegan was able to strike the balance of containment with attacking energy perfectly, though Tyrone manager Mickey Harte might have begged to differ afterwards as he set a context for Sean Cavanagh's red card, courtesy of two yellows.
Alan Dillon's involvement for the opening half and baton pass at the break to Tom Parsons also scored marks for the sideline.
Yet Rochford admitted it was far from perfect and the smart approach in normal time was almost ripped to shreds in the added minutes when they played a dangerous game of 'keep ball' in their own half.
The invitation was spurned by Tyrone, substitute Darren McCurry's wide preserving Mayo's delicate lead.
"If I wanted somebody to take a shot from the angle Darren McCurry took it, I would back him every time," reflected Harte.
This result will grind Tyrone for some time to come. Croke Park is a stage that suits them perhaps more than the cauldrons of Ulster but they never found any real rhythm here.
Their more sparky attackers found the going tough. Early on McLoughlin stripped Conor McAliskey, while Brendan Harrison's steal on Ronan O'Neill felt like another big moment.
Critically, Mayo's more established leaders showed the way as Diarmuid O'Connor clearly laboured under the weight of injury. Cillian O'Connor engineered two early points from play and Andy Moran made clever runs to present as a target.
When O'Shea, in for one of his frequent but brief shifts at full-forward, drew three defenders, Moran sat beneath him and swept up for their second point. The right support was always there.
Momentum swung to Tyrone as the half progressed, however, pressure on David Clarke's kick-out telling and leading to two Mattie Donnelly points, his second opening a two-point lead. By the break, though, it was back to 0-7 each. The key for Mayo has been patience, and it was a virtue here.
"We have not been playing as consistently as would have liked but we were building towards a performance, a performance that was probably a 'dig-out' performance," said Rochford.
"We were acutely aware that it was going to be a game of patience and discipline and we coped with that."
Pushing up on the Tyrone kick-out in the third quarter got its reward with two-point lead on 42 minutes when Seamus O'Shea was fouled and Cillian O'Connor converted.
But as Peter Harte's influence grew so did Tyrone and his 52nd minute point had them back in front, 0-11 to 0-10, not long after Clarke had saved from McAliskey in one of the game's pivotal moments. They scored just one more point however, a McCurry free, as Keegan stepped up for two of Mayo's last three points.
Cillian O'Connor sensed there was a performance in Mayo but saw the dangers too, saying: "We knew we were capable but talking about it or waiting for it to happen is dangerous. You have to be wary of falling into the trap of presuming it's going to fall into place."
But there were enough hands on deck to ensure it happened. Whatever else history throws up for this team, a legacy of resilience is already assured.
Scorers - Mayo: C O'Connor 0-7 (4fs), L Keegan 0-2, C Boyle, A O'Shea, T Parsons, A Moran 0-1 each. Tyrone: P Harte 0-4 (2fs), M Donnelly 0-3, C McAliskey (2fs) 0-2, R O'Neill (f), D McCurry (f), N Sludden 0-1 each.
MAYO - D Clarke 8; B Harrison 7, L Keegan 8, K Higgins 6; C Boyle 7, P Durcan 7, K McLoughlin 7; S O'Shea 7, A O'Shea 8; D O'Connor 6, J Doherty 6, D Vaughan 6; C O'Connor 8, A Moran 7, A Dillon 6. Subs: T Parsons 7 for Dillon (h-t), C O'Shea 6 for Vaughan (55), C Barrett 6 for Boyle (57), E Regan for Moran (61), C Loftus for Doherty (66), S Coen for D O'Connor (69).
TYRONE - N Morgan 6; A McCrory 7, R McNamee 7, C McCarron 7; T McCann 6, J McMahon 5, R McNabb 7; C Cavanagh 6, M Donnelly 8; N Sludden 7, P Harte 8, C McShane 6; C McAliskey 6, S Cavanagh 5, R O'Neill 6. Subs: R Brennan 6 for McMahon (22), D McCurry 6 for O'Neill (42), M Bradley 5 for McShane (46), K McGeary for McAliskey (62), J Monroe for McNabb (65), P McNulty for Sludden (68).
REF - D Gough (Meath)