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Eugene McGee: Mayo have plenty of work ahead if they're to capture Sam


 Mayo manager James Horan

Mayo manager James Horan

Mayo manager James Horan

There will be no pre-match euphoria in Mayo before their latest All-Ireland final appearance by comparison to some of their recent final games.

Yesterday's encounter with Tyrone was certainly impressive at the finish with a six-point advantage but, let's face it, most of their followers were predicting more like a 10-point-plus margin. On the other hand, Mayo will have learned many valuable lessons from this game – especially that taking past performances from this year into serious consideration can be a waste of time.

For example in their last game against then champions Donegal, they had scored 2-9 by half-time. Yesterday they had just 0-6 on the board, none of their forwards or midfielders had scored from play and the three miserly points they did get from play were scored by corner-back Chris Barrett and half-back Lee Keegan. From the ninth to the 32nd minute, Mayo managed to score just a pointed free.

So for those and several other reasons there should be little room for complacency in Mayo.

Most worrying for the team and their mentors was their total inability to come to grips with the Tyrone style of play even though the world and its mother knew precisely how the Ulstermen would approach the game.

The only difference this time was Mickey Harte's team decided to go for bust the moment the ball was thrown in and throw caution to the wind rather than adopting their usual military-style disciplined defence which has been their speciality.

After the first quarter it looked as if we were going to see an old-style performance for both sides – Tyrone taking control of the ball and Mayo players getting lost in the depths of opposition ranks.

Panic began to set in when the free-flowing game we saw all year with massive scoring power from the start deserted them.

Halfway through the first half, with Tyrone ahead by a few points, we could see Mayo attackers actually playing into the hands of the Tyrone defence by slowing down the play, going on solo runs, and resorting to handpassing. This kind of stuff has been the bread and butter of Tyrone backlines for a decade.

Never was a half-time break so important as it was for Mayo in this game although signs of a change of attitude actually started in the final five minutes before the break when Barrett and Keegan lifted their team with those points from play.

Then when a dubious penalty was scored by Mayo after the restart, it was as if a switch had been turned on by James Horan and the whole atmosphere changed for Mayo players and fans.

Suddenly they lost their previous inhibitions and it was they who threw caution to the wind and went hell-for-leather to grab this game by the throat. They never really loosened that grip from there on and had the final place secured by the start of the final quarter.

Tyrone had lost, through injury, two pivotal players in the first half in Stephen O'Neill and Peter Harte whose presence might have allowed them retain that first-half control into the second period and it was clear from the start, as was the case all year with the exception of the debacle against Offaly, that Tyrone's scoring power is the weakest of the leading six teams in the country.

As often happens, what people expected in advance never materialised. Sean Cavanagh and Aidan O'Shea had very modest games by their own standards and it was largely defenders who were supplying the ball to attackers. Well-publicised rumours about injuries from Mayo before the game in Croke Park may well have been justified in O'Shea's case.

On the basis that semi-finals are only used as a means of getting into the final, most people from Mayo will be content after this performance. Their mentors however will have to forensically examine the many things that did not work out this time.

Even in the final quarter, with little or no chance of losing, many Mayo players were playing very raggedly and even missing frees.


Horan and James Nallen, two very wise football men as players and mentors, will work very hard on the areas that did not work yesterday and, while the never-say-die attitude was admirable this time compared to some spineless efforts in previous finals, these men will know that yesterday's performance – and attitude at times – will win no All-Ireland final this year.

Nobody likes playing Tyrone of course so the environment may be very different when confronted by Kerry or Dublin.

Mickey Harte may be somewhat disappointed at losing but the injuries were devastating coming so early.

O'Neill at his best for the entire game and contributing several points could have left Tyrone a very different team. A few Tyrone players are reaching the end of the road now as they depart the All-Ireland scene to be replaced by a younger generation of talented footballers.

Tyrone will still be there in the top half dozen because of that and, as is their right, they will be perfectly entitled to play football in the manner they have perfected so successfully in the past decade.

It is up to others to overcome that style on the field of play.

Mayo have a lot to do in the next five weeks but what they need to do is attainable.

The attitude of their gigantic fan club will be very important here where some sort of common sense is required. But yesterday's performance should go a long way to sorting that out.

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