Mayo's Keith Higgins celebrates after the final whistle yesterday in Croke Park. INPHO/Cathal Noonan
expert view

Conor Deegan: 'We have to believe that Mayo are now a different animal'’s Gaelic football columnist looks back at yesterday’s action in Croke Park.

MORE THAN MANY other counties, Mayo are one that suffers from their own heritage.

Defeats in big games in Croke Park have led to their Gaelic football teams being labelled, often unfairly, as ones that crumble under pressure.

This season they have been hugely impressive under James Horan and passed every test with flying colours.

Yesterday in Croke Park was different. Tyrone got them into an uncomfortable position early on. It was a throwback to Mayo teams of old, doing silly things with the ball like shooting wildly from bad positions across the goal.

It was the first real test they have received this year and the first time Mayo have had to stare their opponents in the eye and really go at them. The phase before half-time when people like Chris Barrett stood up was crucial.

The break came at the right time for Mayo. They took stock of themselves and reverted in the second-half to how they have played all year. Tyrone had to conform to that and had difficulty as a result.

After that there was only going to be one winner. I fancied Mayo before the game and the manner in which they won the game has increased my admiration for them.

We have to believe that Mayo are now a different animal. But the real acid test for any county is the All-Ireland final, the game where you need to get over the line and land the big prize. For Mayo, given their heritage, it is even more of an acid test.


Mayo’s Andy Moran celebrates with Barry Moran after the game
Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

Injured star

If they are going to win the final, it looks like they will have to do so without Cillian O’Connor. It would be a hugely significant loss and clouds their preparations for the final.

He’s their marquee forward, the scorer in chief. The sense over the last couple of games was that he was getting into a confident zone in his play. A team can feed off that knowing that if they get the ball into a forward like that, he’ll put scores on the board.

At least they are aware of that a few weeks out from the game as opposed to discovering the injury a few days beforehand. It was also a good sign for them that Alan Freeman played so well yesterday when Mayo needed them to.

He’s a good footballer who did very well against Donegal in the game before that. He’ll take a lot from yesterday’s game. He’s a strong figure, who is positive in running for possession and he struck a really good penalty yesterday. It was a vital score.


Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor is taken off injured
Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Tyrone’s prospects

For Mickey Harte, I think it was a hell of an achievement to take this Tyrone side to an All-Ireland semi-final. Was 2013 a bad year for them? They did not claim silverware but being beaten in a league final and an All-Ireland semi-final would be marked as a good year in many other counties.

Losing players like Peter Harte and Stephen O’Neill didn’t help their cause yesterday. O’Neill has a habit of picking up niggling injuries but he is a fantastic footballer while Harte is a very good player.

Losing those players was difficult and Tyrone’s panel is not as deep as other counties. Maybe their system needs to be tweaked a fraction now. You look at the other counties still in the championship and they are all adventurous in their approach.

Do Tyrone need to start playing more expansively? Perhaps they do. But it’s difficult to change the mindset given how successful the defensive system has been for them.

The future of their long-serving players will now come up for debate. Those guys have their All-Ireland medals in their pockets and it takes serious drive to keep going at this level. Personal circumstances will play a large role. But irrespective of their decisions, Tyrone are a county whose resources ensure they will keep going.

imageA dejected Conor Gormley
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

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