Tuesday 23 January 2018

Keegan shows his bottle as Red Hand rue missed chances

Mayo 0-13 Tyrone 0-12

Lee Keegan, who scored the winning point, celebrates Mayo’s victory over Tyrone in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Lee Keegan, who scored the winning point, celebrates Mayo’s victory over Tyrone in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

They cover so much ground these days, modern Gaelic footballers, mainly because they can. It is one thing for managers to insist on a defensive strategy; it's another thing entirely to carry it out. And they can do it because they have the running power to do it.

Up and down the field, filling the channels, marshalling the cordon across their 45m line. It takes an inordinate amount of running power to discharge this duty to the plan, and to the team - and to the manager's bidding.

Ronan McNabb of Tyrone in action against Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle of Mayo. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Ronan McNabb of Tyrone in action against Kevin McLoughlin and Colm Boyle of Mayo. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

The Mayo and Tyrone footballers on view in Croke Park last night proved once again that they had the athletic capacity to get the bodies back in quick order, no matter how often they had to do it. Thus, they had the capacity to neutralise each other, to take the match into a prolonged state of stalemate.

One of the most familiar sights in Gaelic now is a player on the opponents's 45m line, looking up for an option inside, shaping like he's going to kick it forward - only to turn around and play it back to a static team-mate, who then repeats the process. The more they recycle the ball, the more they are recycling the game itself and shaping it into something new. Everyone should get used to it, for the forseeable future at least.

But if it takes a big aerobic toll on the players, it takes a major toll on their nerves too, if the stalemate continues and the sides remain deadlocked deep into the final quarter of a match.

Mayo squeezed home by a point in last evening's All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park, but no one could say that they were the more nerveless team. Anything but - they fell over the line. Tyrone helped to push them over it by kicking a succession of wides when any one of those shots would probably have left the sides all square at the final whistle.

Séamus O'Shea of Mayo in action against Seán Cavanagh of Tyrone. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Séamus O'Shea of Mayo in action against Seán Cavanagh of Tyrone. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

But the nerves evidently were twitching inside the Ulster men too. Mayo handed them a series of chances on a plate and, one by one, they were squandered.

Read more: Stuttering Dubs show their fallibility

The last few minutes also saw another very contemporary spectacle: the team in front playing keep-ball inside their own half while the opponents, badly needing the ball but so conditioned to dropping back, stand there and watch this charade continue. Even at that, Mayo still managed to cough up the ball not once but twice, handing a lifeline which the Ulster champions could not cling on to.

Those final 10 minutes were the crucible of this match and the ideal environment for the battle-hardened veterans on both sides to once more stamp their class on the matter. In these circumstances Tyrone would have looked to Sean Cavanagh for a moment of quality that might have reprieved them. But Cavanagh was shown a red card on the hour mark and ultimately Tyrone could not fill the void left in his absence.

Tiernan McCann of Tyrone in action against Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tiernan McCann of Tyrone in action against Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It was instead another one of these blue-chip operators, Mayo's Lee Keegan, who had the bottle and composure to kick the decisive score to set up a semi-final against Tipperary. It was the Mayo wing-back's second of the day from play at a time when the nerves on both sides were visibly jangling and the legs were wilting too.

Tyrone thereafter queued up to take their pot shots at goal and turned away each time as the umpire stepped forward to wave wide his arms.

Mayo were not showing many of the benefits they are supposed to have accrued from five or six hard seasons of big games and high-pressure situations. They could not close it down or close it out with any comfort. Even with the final whistle just seconds away, Aidan O'Shea thought to nonchalantly drive a ball across his own back line - and goalkeeper David Clarke had to be quick on his feet to prevent any farcical or indeed tragicomic alarms.

Read more: Donegal’s dogged approach has made Dublin a much better team

Scorers - Mayo: C O'Connor 0-7 (4f), L Keegan 0-2, C Boyle, A O'Shea, A Moran, T Parsons 0-1 each. Tyrone: P Harte 0-4 (2f), M Donnelly 0-3, C McAliskey 0-2 (2f), N Sludden, R O'Neill (f), D McCurry (f) 0-1 each.

Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison, L Keegan, K Higgins; C Boyle, P Durcan, K McLoughlin; S O'Shea, A O'Shea; D O'Connor, J Doherty, D Vaughan; C O'Connor, A Moran, A Dillon. Subs: T Parsons for Dillon (h-t), C O'Shea for Vaughan (54), C Barrett for Boyle (58), E Regan for Moran (62), C Loftus for Doherty (66), S Coen for D O'Connor (69).

Tyrone: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, J McMahon, R McNabb; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; N Sludden, P Harte, C McShane; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh, R O'Neill. Subs: R Brennan for McMahon (22), D McCurry for O'Neill (43), M Bradley for McShane (45), K McGeary for McAliskey (62), B Tierney for McNabb (66), P McNulty for Sludden (68).

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

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