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Deja-vu as Mayo blow it


Sean Cavanagh tries to escape the attentions of Aidan Higgins and Keith Higgins.

Sean Cavanagh tries to escape the attentions of Aidan Higgins and Keith Higgins.

Sean Cavanagh tries to escape the attentions of Aidan Higgins and Keith Higgins.

MICKEY Harte smiled like a man who had just struck a private deal with the gods while John O'Mahony wore the bewildered look of somebody who just couldn't figure out why the world was such a stinking place.

Twice in the space of four weeks Mayo had been edged out of major championship games by a point and now O'Mahony doesn't know if his masters on the county board want any more of him.

It wasn't meant to be like this. Having visited so much joy on Galway and Leitrim, O'Mahony was brought back to his native Mayo to close out the All-Ireland deal after final failures in 2004 and 2006. Two seasons on, Mayo's only championship wins were against Cavan and Sligo while they lost to Galway (twice), Derry and Tyrone.

O'Mahony still has a year to run and is keen to see it through but if the board want him out (which they won't if they have a thimble-full of sense) he'll leave quietly and quickly.


"I have never stayed in any job where I wasn't wanted. I'm willing to live by my commitments but obviously I'll sit down with the county board and see what they want," he said.

He also suggested that it was a time for Mayo to hold their nerve. His squad are a work in progress and panic trading won't achieve anything.

"I've no problem walking out the door if somebody else can come in and win an All-Ireland for Mayo next year. I've a fair idea that I know what needs to be done so it's important to hold the nerve."

Indeed it is. And if Mayo doubt that, all they have to do is study how Tyrone retained their composure when faced with a three-point deficit (1-7 to 0-7) 15 minutes into the second half of Saturday's third-round qualifier.

The margin should have been greater as Conor Mortimer hoofed high over the bar from a clear goal opportunity in the 47th minute. Still, Mayo were in full flow while Tyrone looked edgy and, at times, even clumsy.

Then all changed. Sean Cavanagh and Enda McGinley increased the supply rate from midfield and, in the space of 10 minutes, Tyrone scored six unanswered points to pull three clear.

Mayo responded and cut two back but their season ended in bright Croke Park sunshine with Trevor Mortimer and Aidan Higgins both feeling aggrieved that they hadn't been awarded a free on the Tyrone 45-metre line after being surrounded by defenders right at the end.

Referee Cormac Reilly ignored their call, deciding instead that Tyrone's swarm approach was perfectly legal. Unquestionably, some referees would have seen it differently and presented Mayo with one last shot at salvation.

But then Mayo had been at the wrong end of another crucial call a few minutes earlier when Ryan McMenamin fouled Conor Mortimer as he sped down on goal. There was a clear overlap and a great goal opportunity but the referee whistled play back and awarded Mayo a free which they pointed.

It was a clear example of crime paying and another perfect illustration of the nonsense of a rule that punishes the fouled party rather than the transgressor.

On such tiny margins are seasons decided. Mayo will feel hard done by but then if you allow others to decide your fate you can expect disappointment. The uncomfortable reality for Mayo was that they scored just 1-3 from play and only three players got on the scoresheet as opposed to eight for Tyrone.

Conor Mortimer and Billy Joe Padden were the only two of Mayo's starting six forwards to make a real impression although there were extenuating circumstances for Pat Harte who had a tummy bug on Friday and who lasted only to half-time. Trevor Mortimer added some clout to the attack in the second half while Tom Parson had some good spells at midfield.

Harte's rejigging of his Tyrone forces, including bringing Cavanagh to midfield, worked well and while it took the attack a long time to establish momentum they finally did enough to pick off a series of match-winning points.

Harte praised his side's energy and also noted that they didn't panic when they fell three points adrift in the second half. It was a position they never expected to find themselves when they raced into a three-point lead after 15 minutes before Mayo's rapid improvement, decorated with a smartly created goal which Conor Mortimer finished, gave them a one-point lead at the interval.

Mayo dominated the first 15 minutes of the second half, during which Tyrone failed to score but they still only found themselves three points behind, which was well within the recovery range once they launched their mission.

They squeezed through to their sixth quarter-final in eight seasons, much to the relief of their manager, who acknowledged that the jigsaw pieces needed to fit tighter together to complete the picture.

"We're not converting enough of our chances. We need to nail more of them and then go on to play with more fluency," he said.

Tyrone missed some excellent opportunities on Saturday with Tommy McGuigan, who kicked four wides, the main culprit. Is Harte worried that so many games in a short space of time might dull the team's edge for their clash against Dublin?

"That's what you buy into when you're in the qualifiers. The alternative is to be watching the action from the sidelines," he said.

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

TYRONE -- J Devine 6; C Gourley 7, Justin McMahon 7, C Gormley 7; D Harte 7, R McMenamin 7, P Jordan 7; R Mellon 6, E McGinley 8; B Dooher 6, B McGuigan 5, Joseph McMahon 6; C McCullagh 7, S Cavanagh 8, T McGuigan 6. Subs: M Penrose 7 for Mellon (47), C Holmes 7 for B McGuigan (47), D Carlin 7 for Harte (54), O Mulligan for T McGuigan (68), D McCaul for McMenamin (74).

MAYO -- D Clarke 7; K Higgins 7, T Cunniffe 7, A Higgins 7; T Howley 7, J Nallen 7, P Gardiner 7; D Heaney 6, T Parsons 7; A Moran 5, P Harte 6, BJ Padden 7; C Mortimer 7, A Dillon 6, A Kilcoyne 5. Subs: T Mortimer 7 for Harte (ht), A Campbell 6 for Kilcoyne (55), P Kelly for Howley (62), R McGarrity for Moran (63).

REF -- C Reilly (Meath)