While it might not have been mentioned in training, the pain of losing last year’s Nickey Rackard Cup final to Donegal played no small part in this afternoon’s victory when a dominant Mayo team saw off the challenge of Tyrone in a one-sided final at Croke Park.
For the second week in a row, the Green and Red of Mayo echoed around GAA headquarters as a Mayo captain lifted silverware to the heavens, with a strong performance that saw the westerners take the game by the scruff of the neck from the opening minute.
Manager Derek Walsh said that the overriding emotion he felt after the game was relief.
“I am relieved more than anything that we got over the line. We had disappointment the last time we were here in October, and I am delighted that we got a performance from the players that justifies all the training they have done.
“They have been burting a gut and while it does not always happen on a big day, I am just thankful today that it did..
“We didn’t mention last year at all but then when you come up here again, and into the stadium, it brings back all the memories. You think back that that. But we left no stone unturned to get a performance out of the lads today.
“We started like a train, and played well. The third quarter was level, but there was always going to be a kick in a team like Tyrone. It was all about our own performance and that is what we have been working on for the last few weeks.
“All our leaders stood up today and most of them gave man of the match performances. They have been great working with the young lads coming into the panel all year and the deserved that performance today.”
He is looking forward to the Christy Ring Cup next year.
“We feel we are able to compete at Christy Ring level, but to do that you have to be in it, and I am glad that we have achieved that,” he said.
Michael Morley who spent ten minutes in the sin bin in the first half said that they came to Dublin to right the wrong of last year’s defeat.
“We came here to do a job and we knew that coming in. We left it behind last year, we had a good performance in the first half but it just died out the second half and we wanted to right that wrong today and I am just glad for everyone that we got it over the line today.
“We said last year was last year, we started games slowly but we were straight-out of the blocks today. We said to get to the first water break to do the simple things.
“Keith Higgins said before the game to us that it just comes down to doing the simple things, whether it’s an All Ireland Final or just some other match, we just worked that bit harder, we were winning all the rucks and the forwards seemed to be on fire. Everything they seemed to be hitting was going over. The workrate set us apart,” he said, adding that the promotion to the Christy Ring is exciting.
“It is where we want to be. This was our fourth year down and we wanted to get back up to the Christy Ring. We know we are well capable of that standard.”
Cathal Freeman said that result brought a real sense of satisfaction that Mayo hurling is moving upwards again.
“It is something we have been working on for quite a while. We thought we’d be out of this level a while back, so there is a sense of job done. These days don’t come around too often.
He said that last year did not prey on their minds, but that they knew they had to give Tyrone respect.,
“Last year might have factored a bit more in if it had been Donegal we were playing. We had played Tyrone before and knew what they were capable of, and we knew that if we didn’t pay them proper respect, we could get turned over.
“But we were very much focused on the job we had in hand. There were mistakes, but the effort and application could not be faulted,” he said.
He said the lads were slagging him about his missed penalty, taken after Tyrone had their keeper sin-binned, and had to put an outfield player between the posts for the penalty.
“The boys are not letting me away with that penalty. They said I gave the goalie far too much respect. I should have hit it straight at him.”
He paid tribute to the experienced heads in the team.
“We are lucky in the sense that we do have a number of experienced lads. Keith is one of the lads and slotted incredibly easy into the system. He is very much a team player. “We have a bunch of lads who know each other a very long time and we are lucky in that regard. There is a wide spread of lads who have really contributed a huge amount to it.
“When you are in the game, you don’t view yourself as a leader. You view yourself as one of the fifteen and you have a certain role and set of skills that you have to execute and you hope that everyone else does their job,” he said.
It was Mayo who got off to the brighter start. Twice in the opening two minutes, Higgins was fouled and Boland tapped over the frees. Then Higgins found himself free down the right and from distance, he fired over a point from distance into the Canal End.
Mayo were flying but when Philips fouled the ball, Casey tapped over to open Tyrone’s account after three minutes. However, Mayo’s attacking prowess was obvious and when Tyrone keeper Conor McElhatton caught the ball on his line and played it straight to Sean Regan, the Ballina man didn’t need a second invitation. He steadied himself and shot to the corner of the net.
It was a dispiriting concession by Tyrone, but they got the next two scores from Casey frees to stay in touch. Boland and Kearns exchanged points — the Kearns score the last one Tyrone would hit until the stroke of half-time.
When Morley crashed into McGourty after twenty minutes, the Tooreen man was sin binned but his clubman bailed him out with the penalty save from Casey.
Mayo took off Cassidy and brought on Hunt to bolster up affairs while Morley was off and a slew of scores from Freeman, Philips, Boland Phillips and a wonder strike from Higgins put Mayo well clear. Tyrone’s solitary reply before the break being Kearn’s late strike.
Casey (2 ) and Higgins exchanged points after the break, but the defence held firm.
However, a storming run from Conor Grogan saw him firing to the net past Douglas and the gap was down to nine.
Before long Cathal Freeman collected the ball, waltzed through and fired low to the net to settle the decider.
When Coyne burst through with just the keeper to beat, Tyrone custodian McElhatton wrestled him to the ground and referee Richie Fitzsimons signalled for a penalty. In the interim, he sinbinned the keeper. With McGourty stepping into the goal, Freeman’s penalty was sent wide.
With the stadium engulfed in a downpour, Mayo defended easily against Tyrone’s efforts and a trio of sublime scores from Coyne, Boland and Freeman left them sixteen clear with just five minutes left.
In added time, substitute Brian Morley tapped on a fine point from distance, as did Oisin Greally to round off a satisfying win for the Westerners. The second week in a row that the green and red celebrated on the turf.
In his acceptance speech, captain Keith Higgins paid tribute to the players and management for the efforts they had made to lead Mayo to that victory. To the Tyrone players, he reminded them that the inspiration for Mayo’s victory came from defeat in last year’s final, and that they could similarly inspire themselves from the pain of this year’s loss.
Scorers for Mayo: Cathal Freeman 1-4, Keith Higgins 0-7 (0-1f, 0-1 65 ), Sean Regan 1-3, Shane Boland 0-3 (0-2f ), Adrian Phillips 0-3, Brian Morley 0-2, Cormac Phillips 0-1, Sean Kenny 0-1 (0-1f ), Jason Coyne 0-1, Gary Nolan 0-1, Oisin Greally 0-1.
Scorers for Tyrone: Damian Casey 0-9 (0-5f ), Conor Grogan 1-0, Chris Kearns 0-3, Bryan McGurk 0-1, Tiernan Morgan 0-1.
MAYO: Bobby Douglas; Conor Daly, Michael Morley, Stephen Coyne; Gary Nolan, David Kenny, Conor Henry; John Cassidy, Sean Kenny; Cormac Phillips, Cathal Freeman, Sean Regan; Keith Higgins, Adrian Phillips, Shane Boland.
Subs: Brian Hunt for Cassidy 22-31, Pearse McCrann for Cassidy 47, Jason Coyne for Cormac Phillips 47, Hunt for Morley 58, Brian Morley for Adrian Phillips 61, Oisin Greally for Boland 67.
TYRONE: Conor McElhatton; Jarlath Kerr, Dean Rafferty, Sean Paul McKernan; Lorcan Devlin, Chris Kearns, Conor McNally; Ciaran Lagan, Michael Little; Conor Grogan, Bryan McGurk, Cain Ferguson; Rory Weir, Damian Casey, CJ McGourty.
Subs: Tiernan Morgan for Ferguson 31, Dermot Begley for McNally h/t, Padraig McHugh for McKernan 36-38, Sean Og Grogan for Weir 44, Sean Donaghy for Devlin 51-52, Sean Donaghy for Little 64.
Referee: Richie Fitzsimons (Offaly ).