It might have been that Tyrone were destined to win this year’s All-Ireland, as if Fate’s hand has been guiding them through all hazards in their way.
ou can read that any way you wish but the team that lost to Kerry in the league semi-final by 16 points, and endured crisis and deep uncertainty when faced with an untimely Covid-19 outbreak, has found the strength and resilience needed to win the county’s fourth All-Ireland and first since 2008.
The win was more conclusive than most had expected, leaving Mayo clutching another shattering All-Ireland final loss, their 11th since they last reached the summit 70 years ago.
They will mourn a performance that fell well short of where they needed it to be. Once settled after a slow start, Tyrone simply did most things better.
They profited more from turnovers, an area where both counties had done notably well in winning their semi-finals. They were more clinical with scoring opportunities.
In that latter respect, much attention will focus on Ryan O’Donoghue’s missed penalty seven minutes after half time. That O’Donoghue had probably been Mayo’s best player in the first half summed up his county’s day.
At the end of a dramatic season, when the two favourites fell at the penultimate stage, Padraig Hampsey of Coalisland went up to collect the Sam Maguire.
The last Tyrone captain to do so was Brian Dooher, very much the embodiment of the player and prototype which helped transform Tyrone from habitual dreamers to hardcore winners and a respected championship contender.
Known from tireless running up and down the field, Dooher might have thought his own race was finished when he retired from inter county football.
But as joint manager with Feargal Logan, and having replaced the long-running Mickey Harte, to have helped engineer an All-Ireland in the first season is truly remarkable.
Fate then will call on us to pay closer attention. Had Michael Murphy stayed on the field in Enniskillen. Had the GAA not allowed the All-Ireland semi-final extension.
Had Kerry made better use of their goal-scoring opportunities instead of momentarily losing their minds. But all successful teams weather those storms and during that journey Tyrone grew and grew.
Saturday was the final consummation, one of their own making, defeating Mayo in a novel final pairing, taking the Sam Maguire back to their land-locked county in mid-Ulster.
The O’Donoghue penalty miss will loom large in Mayo post-mortems, when they trailed by two points. Four minutes later Cathal McShane, only two minutes on the field after leaving the bench, got his hand on a dropping ball ahead of Oisin Mullen, back after injury, and Tyrone were in the driving seat.
Mayo kicked points either side of the final water break and reduced the gap down to two points with 12 minutes of normal time left. But the feeling by then was that they had already left their best chances behind.
They simply didn’t look persuasive or bullish enough. Matthew Ruane, who was sent off near the end of the match, was well contained by the outstanding Brian Kennedy – an area of the field where Mayo had justifiable hopes of gaining an edge.
Padraig O’Hora went into the match with a well-earned reputation as one of Mayo’s most ruthless man-markers. Throughout the first half he was troubled by Darren McCurry, Tyrone’s best forward finishing with 1-4, two of those from frees.
And it was McCurry’s goal, Tyrone’s second, in the 59th minute that doomed Mayo to another wretched defeat. Having closed to within two points, they were caught when Tyrone attacked at pace, McKenna picking out McCurry who patted in to the Mayo net. Two points moved out to five.
Immediately Lee Keegan sought to rescue his side with two stirring plays, first scoring a point and then charging upfield again to win a free which O’Donoghue converted.
There was still only three points between them when Tommy Conroy pointed with five minutes left but Tyrone outscored Mayo 0-3 to 0-1 from there to the finish, which had seven minutes of stoppage time.
Mayo came with huge hope, having defeated the All-Ireland champions four weeks ago and dealt impressively with the loss of leading scorer and free taker Cillian O’Connor to injury.
In the first half they created two goal chances and had another claim for a penalty in injury time when O’Hora had been fouled by Kieran McGeary just outside the square.
From the free O’Donoghue popped over his fourth free of the half, to close the scoring, leaving Tyrone sitting on a 0-10 to 0-8 lead.
After poor first halves in their previous two matches they were faster out of the blocks. Having gone in front after just 14 seconds through Tommy Conroy, they doubled their lead in the fifth minute when Kevin McLoughlin was fouled by Frank Burns and O’Donoghue landed the free.
But they couldn’t maintain it. Almost 12 minutes passed to their next score, a lovely finish from play by O’Donoghue, and by then Tyrone had taken a 0-3 to 0-2 lead. Just before the water break McCurry curled over a point to put Tyrone in front again.
The teams were level four times in the first half but Tyrone has a more assured look.
Granted, they needed Niall Sludden to come to their rescue in the 15th minute when Mayo blew a double goal chance. Bryan Walsh had the first attempt stopped by Niall Morgan and when Conor Loftus kicked off the ground with Morgan stranded, Sludden made a vital block.
He also finished the first half with two points from play.
Mayo drew level for the fourth time at 0-5 a piece in the 22nd minute when Patrick Durcan pointed. But from there Tyrone got a tighter grip, scoring the next three points from Sludden, Mattie Donnelly and a Morgan ’45, after McCurry had a ground shot for a goal stopped by Hennelly on the half hour.
Three minutes before that a beautiful ball from O’Donoghue picked out O’Shea near goal, but he rushed the shot and McNamee was able to effect a half-block.
For the second half they changed their match-ups. Keegan picked up McCurry and O’Hora, later taken off, was given the responsibility of policing McKenna.
Opportunity knocked again early in the second half. Four minutes in Conroy raced past Hampsey but dragged his goal attempt wide.
Three minutes after that, the referee penalised Burns for picking the ball off the ground after an O’Donoghue free fell short. O’Donoghue’s penalty after a brief stall in the run-up went wide to the right, Tyrone then leading by two points.
Meanwhile, Tyrone just kept on doing what Tyrone do.
Scorers – Tyrone: D McCurry 1-4 (0-2 f); N Morgan 0-3 (2 fs, 1 45); C McShane 1-0; N Sludden 0-2; P Hampsey, P Harte (f), K McGeary, M Donnelly D Canavan 0-1 each. Mayo: R O’Donoghue 0-8 (7 fs); T Conroy 0-2; R Hennelly (f), L Keegan, P Durcan, S Coen, K McLoughlin 0-1.
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; F Burns, P Harte, K McGeary; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; C Meyler, M O’Neill, N Sludden; D McCurry, M Donnelly, C McKenna. Subs: C McShane for Donnelly (44); D Canavan for O’Neill (53); B McDonnelly for Kennedy (57); P Donaghy for McKenna (66); T McCann for Kilpatrick (73).
Mayo: R Hennelly; L Keegan, P O’Hora, M Plunkett; P Durcan, O Mullen, S Coen,; M Ruane, C Loftus; D O’Connor, A O’Shea, B Walsh; K McLoughlin, T Conroy, R O’Donoghue. Subs: E Hession for Plunkett (ht); J Flynn for O’Hora (52); A Orme for Loftus (66); J Carr for McLoughlin (74).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).
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