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 Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea commiserates with Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea commiserates with Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone

Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea commiserates with Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone

It says it all about the remarkable adventure that Mayo have embarked on this season that they could afford to drop their average score by seven points and still win an All-Ireland semi-final by six points.

That they achieved it against Tyrone, a county with a proven record for defensive security, made it all the more impressive on a day when they were forced to bring a new dimension to their game. Unlike Mayo's previous four outings, which they won in a canter after overpowering the opposition in the first half, they had work their way through various problems yesterday before ramping up to full momentum and squeezing Tyrone into submission.

Mayo will be the better for the more demanding experience. Ridiculously easy wins over Galway, Roscommon, London and Donegal were very enjoyable for the team and supporters but they also left the question as to what would happen on a day when the opposition stood firm throughout the first half.

The answer was provided with emphatic authority yesterday as Mayo recovered from a four-point deficit after 32 minutes to win the remainder of the game by 1-13 to 0-6. Indeed, if they had been more precise in the final 15 minutes, the winning margin would have surged well into double figures.

Tyrone were a spent force by then and while they plugged on with trademark defiance, they were forced into trying to manufacture goals, a mountainous challenge against a Mayo defence, for whom the unease of the first half hour was a distant memory.

Still, it will figure prominently in James Horan's debrief, as will the general sense of lethargy which infected Mayo's play in the first half hour. They were restricted to three points – all from frees – in that period while Tyrone had kicked seven points in a tidy performance which was a whole lot more attack-minded than anticipated.

It was assumed that they would flood their defensive channels, inviting Mayo onto them before breaking out in counter-attacks but instead they drove forward, pressing their attacks from all angles and making quite a lot of headway against the Mayo defence.

Tyrone led by 0-5 to 0-2 after 13 minutes and by 0-7 to 0-3 after 32 minutes and, for the first time in this championship, Mayo looked vulnerable.

Colm and Sean Cavanagh were shading the midfield battle with the O'Shea brothers Aidan and Seamus; Conor Clarke was surging forward purposefully; Conor McAliskey looked lively in attack and, overall, Mickey Harte's game plan appeared to be working well.

However, Tyrone lost Peter Harte and Stephen O'Neill to injury, a double-hit of serious proportions. Harte lasted just six minutes before having to retire after being flattened – legally it must be said – in a challenge by Tom Cunniffe, while O'Neill departed after 26 minutes.

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Mayo had lost a key forward too when Cillian O'Connor was forced out after 11 minutes with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Enda Varley, who made a significant contribution as did Michael Conroy, Cathal Carolan and Richie Feeney, all of whom came on in the final quarter.

With the exception of Kyle Coney, Tyrone's replacements were not as effective, making the loss of Harte and O'Neill all the more crucial.

Still, Tyrone would have been quite pleased with their performance over the first half hour.

Granted, they had a lucky escape when referee Maurice Deegan awarded Mayo a free in after Alan Freeman had scored a goal in the 25th minute but, other than that, the Tyrone defence were coping well. Incredibly, Kevin McLoughlin blasted the 13-metre free wide after the Freeman goal, raising fears among Mayo supporters that it might turn out to be one of those days when the script ended up in the bin.

However, all changed in the last five minutes of the half. The O'Shea brothers increased their possession ratio (they raised it further in the second half) and with Mayo defenders looping into attacking positions, the pressure on the Tyrone defence grew rapidly.

Chris Barrett (2) and Lee Keegan (1) galloped forward to kick confidence-building points for Mayo who were back in serious business by half-time, at which stage they trailed by a point, 0-7 to 0-6.

The opening 10 minutes of the second half turned out to be the crucial period. Mayo scored 1-2 without reply while Tyrone wasted three point-scoring chances, two from frees by Darren McCurry and Sean Cavanagh.

Mayo's goal came from the penalty spot in the 38th minute after another forward run by Boyle drew a foul from Dermot Carlin. The referee pointed to the penalty spot, although TV pictures showed that the challenge took place just outside the 13-metre line.

It was a harsh call on Tyrone, who were made to pay the full price by Freeman who thumped the ball past Pascal McConnell. Mayo were looking ominously powerful at that stage and once they hit the front for the first time, they never looked like being caught.

CUSHION

They were six points clear by the 47th minute and while Tyrone pared it back to four a few minutes later, it was as close as they got. With a comfortable cushion underneath them, Mayo were able to relax into a familiar rhythm which was never going to be disrupted.

Tyrone were forced into chasing goals, a largely futile pursuit against a much-improved Mayo defence. For the fourth time in five outings, Mayo did not concede a goal while keeping the points tally down to 13.

It's an excellent defensive record while a strike rate of 1-16 will always win more games than it loses. All of which leaves Mayo in a very encouraging position heading into the final. The manner in which they calmly recovered from what looked a difficult position was impressive, even allowing for the limited nature of Tyrone's second-half performance.

It was as if Tyrone expended so much energy in the first half hour that they found themselves running on empty in the second half once Mayo raised the tempo.

Tyrone's error-count, not least off frees, added to their problems, whereas Mayo grew ever more compact. No doubt, Horan will have words with them about their sloppiness in the final 15 minutes but by then they had already checked in for an All-Ireland final appearance on September 22.

They will go into the final with a lot more optimism than last year. Yesterday's gritty effort was exactly what they needed after four demolition jobs in the previous rounds and shows that, whatever the nature of the challenge, they have the wherewithal to address it.

That's a warm feeling to take into an All-Ireland final.

Scorers – Mayo: A Freeman 1-4 (1-0 pen 3fs), A Dillon, L Keegan, C Barrett 0-2 each, R Hennelly (f), C O'Connor (f), K McLoughlin (f), E Varley, C Carolan, A O'Shea 0-1 each. Tyrone: D McCurry 0-4 (2fs), S Cavanagh (1f), C McAliskey 0-2 each, C McGinley, S O'Neill, R O'Neill, A Cassidy, K Coney 0-1 each.

Mayo – R Hennelly 7; T Cunniffe 7, G Cafferkey 8, C Barrett 8; D Vaughan 7, C Boyle 8, L Keegan 8; A O'Shea 7, S O'Shea 8; K McLoughlin 7, K Higgins 8, A Dillon 7; C O'Connor 6, A Freeman 9, A Moran 6. Subs: E Varley 8 for O'Connor (11), M Conroy 8 for A Moran (56), C Carolan 7 for Cunniffe (58), R Feeney 7 for Vaughan (64), B Moran for A O'Shea (68).

Tyrone – P McConnell 6; C McCarron 7, C Gormley 6, R McKenna 6; P Harte (not on long enough), C Clarke 7, C McGinley 6; C Cavanagh 7, S Cavanagh 6; Matthew Donnelly 5, Mark Donnelly 6, J McMahon 6; D McCurry 6, S O'Neill 5, C McAliskey 7. Subs: D Carlin 6 for Harte (6), R O'Neill 5 for S O'Neill (26), R McNabb 6 for McMahon (44), A Cassidy 6 for Matthew Donnelly (48), K Coney 7 for R O'Neill (58).

Ref – M Deegan (Laois)


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