Thursday 21 February 2019

Mayo merge old and new to make strong statement

Mayo 2-13 Tyrone 0-10

Mayo power surge: Aidan O’Shea tries to escape the clutches of Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly in Healy Park. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Mayo power surge: Aidan O’Shea tries to escape the clutches of Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly in Healy Park. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

For the last two seasons Mayo have required escape acts of Houdini proportions to avoid relegation from the top flight.

Kevin McLoughlin kicked them to safety in Ballybofey last year, having done something similar in Omagh the previous year to set up a storming second half against Donegal in Castlebar in their final game.

This time it shouldn't come to that. Mayo will lose games but their interest, if this performance is anything to gauge by, could be at the other end of the table.

Not since 2012 have they won both opening games in a campaign, and the power and energy of this performance in Omagh was as good as anything they have produced in a group fixture perhaps since they went to Kerry two years ago.

In mitigation, Tyrone were dreadful at times, particularly up front, where they bettered their return of the previous week by just three points.

As Mickey Harte wryly suggested, 17 points (their combined total so far) would just about be enough to win one game in the division.

Kyle Coney of Tyrone showing his ripped shirt to referee Joe McQuillan following a second-half clash. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Kyle Coney of Tyrone showing his ripped shirt to referee Joe McQuillan following a second-half clash. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Their problems start with their most advanced line and the lack of threat there was. Tyrone didn't create a clear-cut goal chance. By comparison, Mayo had at least four.

The most pleasing aspect for the visitors had to be the impact of some of their new faces and how they stood up in such a testing environment before a crowd of 6,448.

Michael Plunkett was a late call-up but acquitted himself well, adding regularly to their attacking width.

Fionn McDonagh and James Tracey, both starting their first League games, hit 1-5 between them, McDonagh's goal in the 58th minute putting the game beyond any doubt.

Mayo’s Ciaran Treacy comes under pressure from Kieran McGeary, Tiernan McCann and Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Ciaran Treacy comes under pressure from Kieran McGeary, Tiernan McCann and Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Not that there was any real doubt up to that point. Once Mayo got over their own tentative start, falling 0-3 to 0-2 behind to Peter Harte's 21st-minute point - the home side's only score in half an hour - they dominated.

Mastered

Tyrone have mastered the 'bounce back' in the League well in recent years and after such a poor return in Kerry home comforts should have meant a lot more.

The underfoot conditions were poor but Mayo adapted better. Keith Higgins drove them relentlessly and it was his probing that yielded the first goal as he accelerated on to Andy Moran's pass, cut in from the right and manoeuvred his body to plant a shot to the corner, giving Niall Morgan no chance for a 1-6 to 0-3 lead on 31 minutes.

Mayo's Fionn McDonagh in action at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Mayo's Fionn McDonagh in action at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

The years have not yet taken an edge off Higgins' pace and sense of anticipation.

Moran's movement across the line caused real problems for Tyrone. He could have had two first-half goals, opting to fist a point in one instance and square a pass to Brian Reape in another after a swift counterattack that had begun with Aidan O'Shea stripping possession from Mattie Donnelly with a crisp tackle at the other end.

This is one of O'Shea's calling cards and when he thieved Peter Harte in similar circumstances late on, Brendan Harrison made the ground for Patrick Durcan to kick a fine point.

But it will be the performance of McDonagh (left) which will offer most encouragement. In his second spell in charge James Horan simply can't rely only on the tried and trusted for what's ahead. McDonagh's willingness to take on defences and his pace in the half-forward line is something they haven't had in abundance, and could be just what they are looking for.

For his goal, the safer option was a point to keep the scoreboard ticking over but when O'Shea spotted him with a quick free he dropped his shoulder and took off, unleashing an unstoppable low shot past Morgan to open an 11-point gap, 2-12 to 0-7.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, right, and forwards coach Stephen O'Neill. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, right, and forwards coach Stephen O'Neill. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Transition

Horan was able to list out other colts in his stable - James Durcan, Cian Hanley, Oisin McLoughlin, Ryan O'Donoghue and Colm Moran among them - who could see action when they overcome injuries. The transition in personnel looks like it will really gather pace over the next couple of seasons.

Tyrone really were bereft of ideas up front, although Morgan's surge and point off the outside of his right foot from about 40 metres in the last quarter was a highlight.

Peter Harte was always an outlet inside and came up with three points (one from a free) while Mattie Donnelly had a great battle with O'Shea and gained territory with some of his runs. But Tyrone just don't have inside forwards who scare opponents.

That said, Mayo's defence was defiant, epitomised by Higgins, Plunkett, Patrick Durcan and Lee Keegan, who was involved in a few flashpoints and was eventually substituted just after a yellow card for again testing the fabric of substitute Kyle Coney's jersey.

Horan was delighted with the performance.

"Our focus and attention was very good. Our tackling was strong, discipline in the tackle. We probably have some extra work done over Tyrone, thought our legs were very strong, with our second runners, got away a few times and that gave us huge impetus," he said. "Delighted with how we played, no question."

Higgins and Moran got special mention, with Horan adding: "Keith is just a special type of guy. He got up there and got a goal, gave us momentum just when Tyrone were at us a little bit.

"And Andy was just relentless in his movement, he kept two Tyrone guys busy in there; he mightn't have got much ball but the work he did in there was phenomenal. Aidan O'Shea's tackling, the discipline in his tackling … he is one of the best tacklers in the game."

The convergence of youth and experience is creating a different dynamic, Horan suggesting that the addition of new players was adding "a bit of madness and enthusiasm to it".

Harte admitted back-to-back defeats now has Tyrone in survival mode, something they've become more accustomed to than should be the case.

"We have to accept we have a huge amount of work to do to be staying at this level of football. We're not looking for excuses. We were beaten by a better team today, we were beaten by a better team last week and that's the level we want to compete at," said Harte, describing some of their shooting as "soul-destroying".

Scorers - Mayo: F McDonagh 1-3, K Higgins 1-0, J Doherty 0-3 (1f), A Moran (1f, 1m), R Hennelly (1 '45', 1f), C Tracey 0-2 each, P Durcan 0-1. Tyrone: P Harte 0-3 (1f), L Brennan (1m), D McCurry (1f, 1m) 0-2 each, N Morgan, M Donnelly (f) C Grugan 0-1 each.

Mayo - R Hennelly 7; S Coen 7, B Harrison 7, K Higgins 8; L Keegan 8, M Plunkett 8, P Durcan 7; D O'Connor 7, D Vaughan 6; F McDonagh 8, A O'Shea 7, C Tracey 7; B Reape 6, J Doherty 7, A Moran 7. Subs: C Diskin 6 for Reape (49), J McCormack 6 for Keegan (60), K McLoughlin for Moran (66), D Drake for Coen (69), M Ruane for Tracey (72).

Tyrone - N Morgan 7; M McKernan 6, R McNamee 7, HP McGeary 5; R Brennan 6, M Donnelly 7, T McCann 6; B Kennedy 6, D McClure 5; F Burns 5, N Sludden 6, K McGeary 6; D McCurry 5, L Brennan 7, P Harte 8. Subs: P Hampsey 6 for HP McGeary(h-t), C Grugan 7 for McClure (h-t), K Coney 6 for Burns (40), C McCann 6 for McCurry (46), C Meyler 6 for K McGeary (54).

Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)

Irish Independent

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