Friday 19 January 2018

Late Donnelly goals break Mayo hearts

SEVEN points up in the third quarter, Mayo's hopes of causing a massive shock by reaching their third final in a row looked a nailed-on cert yesterday but, yet again, a visit to headquarters only brought them more football heartache.

A goal each from Richard Donnelly and super-sub Dara Donnelly inside four minutes kick-started Tyrone's dramatic 10-point turnaround in just 11 minutes to end Mayo's latest All-Ireland dream.

"We're absolutely devastated," said their crestfallen manager Tony Duffy after seeing his side's big lead against Ulster's white-hot favourites fizzle out pitifully. "We had patches in the game where we were very good, but then we'd patches where we were taking in water and shipped three goals, and when we were playing well we probably weren't scoring enough."

Tyrone boss Raymond Munroe deflected all the credit for his side's remarkable comeback, even though his decision to throw in Dara Donnelly and Padraig McNulty proved particularly vital to their recovery.

"It doesn't matter what I thought or did, it was the players on the pitch who didn't give up the ghost and they deserve all the credit," he insisted.

"Mayo have great footballers; I don't know why they just can't get over the line at vital stages," he mused, though Duffy felt that was a little harsh.

"We didn't roll over like many other Mayo teams have, we fought as hard as we could and it just wasn't quite enough," Duffy concluded.

But oh, this was another one that will really haunt them, especially after leading so impressively against a side that the bookies had rated 2/7 favourites.

Mayo threw off their 'rank underdog' tag immediately, bursting into a three-point lead within five minutes until Tyrone equalised with a deftly chipped Ronan O'Neill goal after eight minutes.

O'Neill almost did it a second time when he split the defence again after 16 minutes only to score a point but Tyrone had still gone three points clear themselves after 18 minutes.

Yet, after going scoreless for a full 14 minutes, the Connacht men responded brilliantly.

Proving that Mayo footballers can score in Croke Park, they rattled over seven unanswered points to lead by four (0-10 to 1-3) at half-time, with late replacement Cian Costello and forward stars Jack McDonnell, Darren Coen and Cillian O'Connor running rings around a Tyrone defence that used Eunan Deeney as a sweeper and corner-forward Stefan Tierney as a wing-back.

On resumption Mayo looked positively 'Tyrone-esque' themselves, with some excellent foot-passing, shooting and running attacks in their unselfish play, which yielded a whopping seven-point lead (0-14 to 1-4) after 42 minutes.

At half-time Tyrone replaced centre-back Michael Donaghy, who could not cope with McDonnell's brilliance, and soon after the break they also hauled off centre-forward Thomas Canavan (a nephew of Peter The Great).

But the arrival of McNulty soon cancelled out the midfield domination of Danny Kirby and when Mayo 'keeper Paul Mannion was forced to make a superb save -- deflecting a Ryan Devlin rocket onto the woodwork -- after 40 minutes, the momentum was clearly shifting. It swung dramatically minutes later when Dara Donnelly and excellent corner-forward Ronan O'Neill combined to find Richard Donnelly, who scored a marvellous goal with the outside of his left boot.

Four minutes later, after O'Neill had followed up with a point, Dara Donnelly flicked up a ball beautifully on the run to score another terrific goal and then O'Neill chipped in with an astonishing point off the left wing to give Tyrone their first lead since the 18th minute.

A suicidal short Mayo kick-out quickly yielded another point for John McCullagh and a point from Stefan Tierney put them three clear with eight minutes left as Mayo struggled to recover their composure.

Fergal Durkan bravely led their attempted fightback and in the dying seconds, as they desperately chased a reprieve, sub Darren Durkan forced Tyrone goalie Mark McReynolds to make a game-saving stop and when the rebound fell to Danny Kirby, Tyrone full-back Conor Clarke pulled off an equally heroic block.

Scorers -- Tyrone: R O'Neill 1-4 (0-1f), R Donnelly 1-2, D Donnelly 1-1, J McCullagh 0-2, S Tierney 0-1. Mayo: C O'Connor 0-6 (0-4f), J McDonnell, D Coen 0-3 each, R Quirke, M Forde, C Costello, J Shaughnessy 0-1 each.

Tyrone -- M McReynolds; S McGarrity, C Clarke, HP McGeary; N Sludden, M Donaghy, E Deeney; H Og Conlon, C Grugan; R Donnelly, T Canavan, R Devlin; S Tierney, J McCullagh, R O'Neill. Subs: P McNulty for Donaghy (h-t), D Donnelly for Canavan (39), L Girvan for Conlon (44), Conlon for Crugan (57), C McCullagh for McGeary (63).

Mayo -- P Mannion; B Harrison, N Freeman, C Twomey; R Quirke, C Walsh, C Horan; D Kirby, M Forde; J McDonnell, F Durkan, S Kelly; C Costello, D Coen, C O'Connor. Subs: M Regan for Twomey (48), A Leonard for Kelly (48), J Shaughnessy for Costello (51), D Durkan for O'Connor (58).

Ref -- R Hickey (Clare).

Irish Independent

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