It was a fine double for Mayo on Sunday afternoon at Croke Park with the Senior team reaching the All Ireland final for a second successive year, with six points to spare over Tyrone , after their Minors proved too strong for a gallant Monaghan side in the Electric Ireland Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Championship Semi-Final winning comfortably on a scoreline Mayo 3-19 Monaghan 1-12.
The Westerners reached the All Ireland final for a second successive year with six points to spare over Tyrone, despite struggling throughout a poor first 35 minutes, undoubtedly their poorest first 35 minutes all year.
Before his side take on Dublin or Kerry in the Final, James Horan will undoubtedly hold an inquest as to why the team played so badly in the first half. Indeed they were extremely fortunate to go in at half time but a single point in arrears, trailing 7 points to 6.
True they had lost the services of leading marksman Cillian O’Connor early in the game but equally Tyrone had lost one of their key men, Peter Harte after only 10 minutes having suffered a hip injury. The Red Hand men were further handicapped on 27 minutes when Stephen O’Neill limped off.
Tyrone had raced into a 0-7 to 0-3 lead just after the half hour mark, following a Ronan O’Neill point (he had just come on to replace Stephen O’Neill). Mayo could count themselves lucky to be only 4 points adrift at that stage though it could be argued that they were unlucky that Laois referee, Maurice Deegan had ‘ruled out’ an Alan Freeman goal, blowing the whistle a fraction after Freeman’s shot had reached the Tyrone net. Kevin McLoughlin missed the ‘easy’ free and Mayo’s chances of returning to Croke Park in September did not look bright then.
James Horan obviously had ‘words of wisdom’ for his charges at the interval as they came out looking much more confident. Aghamore’s Freeman was to get his goal after all come the 40th minute when Colm Boyle was needlessly fouled and Freeman’s penalty was to prove crucial as the game progressed. On the day, Freeman proved to be his side’s match winner, hitting 1-4, a total which somewhat made up for the loss of O’Connor so early in the game. In the end there was only one team in it, and despite Tyrone’s best efforts that team was Mayo.
Mayo’s 1-4 in the opening minutes of the 2nd half was crucial . Within two minutes of the resumption substitute Enda Varley had Mayo level . There followed a free from the aforementioned Alan Freeman and that was followed by another Freeman point immediately after his penalty success. An Alan Dillon score quickly followed with an outstanding point from play and things began to go Mayo’s way at last as Tyrone tired.
At the after match Press Conference James Horan expressed his own disappointment at his team’s performance:
“It was very pleasing to win an All-Ireland semi-final, but we didn’t play well,” Horan said later. “Certainly in the first half we made every mistake you could possibly make so to figure it out and adjust and to kick on in the second half and take control of the game is very pleasing, yeah.
“We’ve started well in all our games, but today we were very poor and looked very heavy-legged. We were making very poor decisions, taking the ball into contact and turning it the wrong way and losing hold of it in 50-50 balls.
“We started taking crazy shot decisions and missed a couple of 14-yard frees, we lost our free-taker. There was a lot of stuff that went wrong, but we just kept playing and grinding it out and kept trying to figure it out.
“The last 10 minutes of the first half I thought were very impressive with Lee (Keegan) and Chris (Barrett) coming up and kicking vital scores to bring us within a point at half-time. We just built on that momentum at the start of the second half.
“The first five or six kick-outs of the second half we won them all and got 1-3 or 1-4 I’d say and owned the game from there.”
Horan admitted that Cillian O’Connor’s injured should was a worry with the All Ireland Final still to come. “I have to talk to the doc but it didn’t look good the way he fell. He is with the medical team now so we need to see how it is, but it certainly didn’t look good.”
At this stage, Horan and indeed all Mayo fans will be hoping against hope that Cillian is fit when the team clashes with the winner of next week’s second semi-final (Dublin or Kerry) on 22nd September.
Mayo scorers: C O’Connor 0-1 (0-1f), K McLoughlin 0-1 (0-1f), A Freeman 1-4 (1-0 pen, 0-3f), C Barrett 0-2, L Keegan 0-2, E Varley 0-1 (0-1f), A Dillon 0-2, R Hennelly 0-1 (0-1f), A O’Shea 0-1, C Carolan 0-1.
Mayo : R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O’Shea, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, K Higgins, A Dillon; C O’Connor, A Freeman, A Moran. Subs: E Varley for C O’Connor (11), M Conroy for A Moran (55), C Carolan for T Cunniffe (58), R Feeney for D Vaughan (64), B Moran for A O’Shea (68).
Tyrone : P McConnell; R McKenna, C Clarke, C McCarron; C McGinley, P Harte, C Gormley; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Matt Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, J. McMahon; D McCurry, S O’Neill, C McAliskey. Subs: D Carlin for P Harte (7), R O’Neill for S O’Neill (27), R McNabb for J. McMahon (44), A Cassidy for Matt Donnelly (48), K Coney for R O’Neill (58).
Referee: Mr M .Deegan (Laois)