Role reversal is the phrase that came into my head watching Saturday’s first All-Ireland quarter-final.
It was surreal to see Tyrone on the receiving end of a tactical masterclass but that’s what Mayo gave them.
It was a game without real hard-hitting stuff and the referee seemed to give a lot of frees for very little. The quality, generally speaking, was poor but Mayo won’t care about that this morning. Nor should they.
These have been the types of games they have lost down through the years. They’re at the stage now where they realise to win an All-Ireland you just have to win it — it really doesn’t matter how you achieve that objective. Doing whatever it takes is what it’s all about. There were crunch times when they gave the ball away but they were the more physical team and were more determined to win the 50-50 collisions.
Mayo were aggressive if not aggressors. I saw Tyrone complaining about Seán Cavanagh being singled out. Well, boo-hoo. They’ve being doing that for years. A lot of what Tyrone do is dictated by what their GPS system tells them. Maybe their data will show their players expended more energy going to remonstrate decisions and antagonise Mayo players than actually going for the ball.
You look at what the likes of Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor had to put up with and Tyrone’s argument doesn’t look so strong.
When Cavanagh kicked a wide, Mayo weren’t all up in his face but at the other end Tyrone couldn’t help themselves. I’ve been at the receiving end of that and I can confirm there’s nothing quite as annoying. For O’Shea and O’Connor not to throw a punch shows unbelievable personal restraint.
You’re mad at yourself for missing and then you’ve two or three guys goading you for doing it.
It may have been only a one-point win but it needed everything for Mayo to scrape over the line, both in terms of performance and strategy. Alan Dillon starting was not something Tyrone would have bargained for and he worked well in the first half.
Colm Boyle was doing well before he was taken off but it was a clinical, considered decision by the Mayo management to call him ashore and Chris Barrett was a sound replacement. In contrast, I couldn’t believe Tyrone didn’t make one personnel change from the Ulster final. Ronan McNabb at half-forward had worked for them up to Saturday but in the wide open spaces of Croke Park, he fell short.
One of the major things Mayo addressed from watching the Ulster final was stopping Tyrone coming at them down the middle. They managed to nullify a lot of that threat. But they also had to do at least two of three other things — keep Seán Cavanagh quiet and lessen the impact of Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly.
They would have felt Conor McAliskey and Ronan O’Neill weren’t going to be the men to deliver for Tyrone and they were proven right.
Those two boys were living off scraps in Ulster and I certainly felt they would breathe a sigh of relief going into Croke Park. It was one the reasons I felt Tyrone had enough to beat Mayo but they just weren’t at the races. McAliskey does a huge amount of work but O’Neill is purely there as a finisher and when he can’t kick the ball over the ball you’re in trouble.
Darren McCurry should have been brought on a lot earlier. Mark Bradley could also be bracketed with McAlliskey, O’Neill, and McCurry. He’s more of a playmaker, yes, but they’re very like for like in terms of quality.
After the Ulster championship, Tyrone looked to have great strength in depth but when you saw the likes of Padraig McNulty coming on, you couldn’t help feeling that he wasn’t going to turn the game.
Tyrone had their best return from free kicks but all those shots were from inside 30 yards. I’m pretty sure Mickey Harte is going to have another crack at it; if he does, he must sort out the free-taking dilemma outside that area.
Niall Morgan kicked three wides on Saturday. When the pressure is on and so much hard work is invested in winning those frees, it can be completely demoralising when they’re not being nailed.
I said to myself a couple of years ago that it wouldn’t be long before another Ulster team follow Donegal in claiming an All-Ireland. On the basis of Saturday I may have to reassess that prediction.
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