It wasn’t as if we weren’t warned. We expected a Tyrone backlash, we didn’t think it would be so convincing. The scrutiny and criticism directed at Mickey Harte’s Tyrone after their capitulation against Monaghan in the first round more than galvanised the red hand for their trip to Castlebar. Sports writers, commentators, analysts, and even Mickey Harte’s most loyal supporters questioned his credentials and his team; they’re as good as dead it was declared.
In hindsight it’s a shame the fog lifted in Castlebar, the pitch barely visible 50 minutes before throw in. Tyrone led this game from the first minute to the last and were very deserving winners, a fortuitous Cillian O’Connor goal somewhat glossing the scoreline. No sour grapes from me this week and I can’t even blame the ref Eddie Kinsella either, although I feel Aidan O’Shea did not deserve a black card as his momentum carried him into the tackle for which he received his punishment. It wouldn’t have made any difference to the score line anyway.
I had a feeling Mayo would be out of luck when Mickey Conroy stole in ahead of Tyrone keeper Niall Morgan only for his left footed attempt to be cleared off the line by Cathal McCarron, if McCarron had done that in a premier league game in England the pundits would have been waxing lyrical about it for the entire game, not in a GAA match, he was just covering his keeper. Morgan is a very eccentric character in the Tyrone goal, a bit off the wall as a lot of keepers are, I can testify to this as I liked to go for the odd trip outfield myself when net minding for Charlestown. His willingness to abort his position was there for all to see when he went on walkabout in MacHale Park, getting his kick blocked down on the half way line resulting in Mark Ronaldson’s point from play, another defender covering his goal on this occasion. I’m sure Mickey Harte was seething. However, when his radar is tuned in he is pretty lethal from long range frees and he nailed two beauties, apparently he is so agile he can jump into a wheelie bin from a standing position, the bin has to be open of course.
It has been well documented by now that Tyrone quite literally parked a few double deckers in front of their goal to stifle Mayo, and that they certainly did. It was said they had their 15 players inside their own half. On quite a few instances they had 15 inside their own 45 which made it a nightmare for Mayo to penetrate. There are three vital components needed to combat the unsightly blanket defence. (1 ) Extreme fitness, (2 ) Accurate foot passing, (3 ) Long range point taking. I flagged Mayo’s inability to break the gain line on several occasions and the few times the ball was kicked in accurately and won by an inside forward they had no support runners coming to take the pass and then subsequently break the gain line to either get or set up a score. We have taken for granted our half back’s ability to support our full forward line when needed but when the gas tank is emptied it’s not going to happen.
Mayo are obviously behind in terms of fitness as acknowledged by Pat Holmes after the game, three weeks time should see a big improvement. Mayo’s foot passing last Sunday was of the dreadful variety, I empathise completely with the players, it’s tough to fire a 60 yard pass when the body is tired and the choke is out, this will improve when the fitness levels increase.
Kick passing has to be a priority at training. Mayo kicked 15 wides last Sunday, some were terrible efforts, but at least five were terrible misses. I always harp on about getting the ball to your percentage shooters, the accurate forward who will nail his attempt eight out of 10 times. Mayo had a few attempts against Tyrone that were just not shooting options most notably from Colm Boyle in the first half and Alan Freeman and Barry Moran in the second. Freeman and Moran were standing motionless on the 45 metre line when they pulled the trigger with their weaker left feet, the attempts not for their scrapbooks. Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin, and Jason Doherty missed simple enough chances. If you score one or two long distance efforts it will unravel the blanket defence and make the defenders push up creating more space inside, unfortunately this did not occur last Sunday, and Tyrone were very comfortable inviting Mayo into their mass defence while letting the less accurate players take the shot on. Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly will be worried about scoring only two points from open play; they know they will not win any more games in division one with that strike rate. The break in the league has come at a good time for them. There is no need to panic, this time last year Kerry were in crisis and look what happened. This time last week Tyrone football was being slated by pretty much everyone after the Monaghan game and now all of a sudden things are rosy again. A week is a long time in football, relax it’s only February.