The team that played the best on the day won the prize

GAA: Casey's Call

Letting fly: Tommy Conroy of Mayo in action against Pádraig Hampsey of Tyrone during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile.

Letting fly: Tommy Conroy of Mayo in action against Pádraig Hampsey of Tyrone during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile.

It was the first time since 1951 that we entered an All-Ireland final as favourites. Every Mayo person, myself included, genuinely felt this was our time.

My confidence was somewhat swayed by public opinion; we will never get a better chance, was the general consensus. The only problem was Tyrone felt the exact same way, they were no doubt delighted with the furore surrounding the Mayo for Sam 2021 bandwagon.

Both teams had done each other a huge favour by eliminating Dublin and Kerry in the semi finals. Both camps felt, this is our time. I have to admit the confidence I was feeling all week and even the morning of the game, somewhat subsided when I got the match day programme in Croke Park and rigorously went through both teams, comparing like for like.

My immediate thought was that this Mayo team, despite defeating all-conquering Dublin, would not strike the fear of God in me if I was an opposition coach. I genuinely felt Tyrone looked a lot stronger on paper, particularly when you went looking at the players from 16- 26. Tyrone had match winners aplenty waiting in the wings; Mayo did not.

My immediate thought was - if Tyrone tie up Mattie Ruane, Tommy Conroy and Ryan O'Donoghue, where will we get scores? My confidence returned five minutes into the game after a blistering start by Mayo. Aiden O'Shea gobbled the throw-in to feed Tommy Conroy for the opening score after 13 seconds.

Moments later, three Mayo players converged on Tyrone corner back, Michael McKiernan, to turf him over the end line for a 45. This is more like it, I thought. Mayo were playing with a real intensity and Tyrone looked a little shell shocked. Mayo looked like they were really up for a titanic battle.

It was clear, however, shortly after, that this may become an afternoon to forget. Tyrone grew into the game and took Mayo for three scores in a row twice in the first half from the 7th to the 10th minute; and then again from the 28th to the 31st minute. A Mayo goal would have been crucial to stem the tide.

Chances presented themselves but they were not taken. Niall Sludden fortuitously kept out a soccer shot by Conor Loftus that could easily have hit the net and Ronan McNamee executed a decisive goal-bound block on Aidan O'Shea, when Niall Morgan was left scampering back to his goal. The fear was beginning to kick in.

Despite my confidence dwindling, we were only down two points at half time. I convinced myself at the break that we are a second-half team, especially after what had happened against Galway and Dublin.

Mayo totally dictated matters at the start of the second half but poor execution and shot selection was going to prove very costly. Tommy Conroy's goal chance - had he dispatched it - would have sent Croke Park haywire. Not long after we were given a reprieve as Frank Burns picked the ball off the ground in the six yard box.

After Ryan O'Donoghue's penalty went wide off the post you could sense the disbelief amongst the passionate Mayo support. We craved a goal that never came. Bryan Walsh too had a half chance but blazed wide, going for goal when surely a fisted point was the only option.

Tyrone fed off scraps for the most part but scored two majors at crucial junctures. Super sub Cathal McShane palmed to the net after both Oisin Mullin and Robbie Hennelly were caught in no man's land, but man of the match, Darren McCurry's goal, is certainly a goal of the year contender.

It came about through what was an absolutely monstrous catch by Conn Kilpatrick, who off-loaded to Conor McKenna, who raced to the Mayo goal drawing in every Mayo player and goalkeeper Robbie Hennelly, before he blindly looped the ball across the 6 yard box - for the in-rushing McCurry to palm to the net. Lights out, game over. It was a brilliant goal.

This Tyrone defence won't cough up a 5 point lead. There was no way Mayo were going to recover from this. They simply weren't playing well. Mayo weren't allowed to play well. The discipline shown by Tyrone midfielders, Brian Kennedy until his withdrawal, and then Conn Kilpatrick, was a sight to behold.

The Tyrone management had obviously singled out Mattie Ruane for special attention and boy, did he get it. They tracked and harassed him on and off the ball all day long, resulting in Ruane because of sheer frustration, getting a red card for striking Kilpatrick.

The game was well over at that stage, regardless. Mayo can have no complaints about this result; too many players not playing to their potential, far too many missed chances. It could have been so different had any of those goal chances gone in. Goals win games.

The loss of talisman Cillian O'Connor was incalculable. Apart from his scoring prowess, his leadership in organising an aggressive forward tackling unit was badly missed.

Stephen Coen had one of his best games in a Mayo jersey but what more can you say about Lee Keegan? He drove Mayo forward time after time when the walls were falling down all around him, he was relentless all afternoon. He is a remarkable player. It's sickening to think himself, Aiden O Shea and Kevin McLoughlin, have now played in six finals and lost them all. What a horrible record. We can have zero complaints after this one. The team that played the best on the day won the prize

 

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