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A brilliant All-Ireland title for Tyrone, crucial second-half goals and more Mayo final misery

It finished 2-14 to 0-15 in Tyrone’s favour in Croke Park.

Michael McKernan celebrates after Tyrone's second goal.
Michael McKernan celebrates after Tyrone's second goal.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

1. A truly brilliant All-Ireland title for Tyrone

For so many reasons, this triumph will be cherished in Tyrone. Only the fourth in the county’s history and the first since their great team of the 2000s carried away the trophy three times. Three months since they were walloped by Kerry in a league semi-final and four weeks since they declared themselves unable to fulfil an All-Ireland semi-final fixture, they rose to deliver a controlled and clinical final display.

They plotted their path to victory this summer by defeating a series of strong opponents. Three teams – Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan – who have won Ulster titles since 2015. The best team in Munster after extra-time and now the standard-bearers from Connacht. This 2021 success will be savoured in Tyrone.

2. Crucial second-half goals

Just like the semi-final against Kerry, Tyrone pounced at the most critical times in the second half to find the net in this final. When Mayo cut the gap to one through Rob Hennelly, Cathal McShane raised a green flag two minutes later. When Mayo cut the gap to two through Kevin McLoughlin, Darren McCurry raised a green flag a minute later.

Aside from the timing to inflict fatal wounds in Mayo’s challenge, the strikes were a source of wonderful creation and execution from Tyrone. Conor Meyler floating a measured delivery in for McShane to display his awareness and punch to the net. Then Niall Morgan’s booming kickout was fetched superbly by Conn Kilpatrick, offloaded to a charging Conor McKenna and his no-look pass finished by McCurry. A sign of an attack working in sync.

3. Mayo’s attacking woes

In contrast Mayo never looked to be operating with the same fluency up front. There was no shortage of goal chances created but Bryan Walsh, Conor Loftus, Aidan O’Shea and Tommy Conroy could not find that moment of poise needed to rattle the Tyrone net. Then came the most clearcut opportunity, Ryan O’Donoghue unable to replicate his goal from the penalty spot in the Connacht final, this shot touching off the upright before flying wide.

In a wider sense their shape and composure up front deserted them badly in the final quarter. After the water break there were point attempts taken on by Loftus, O’Donoghue, Jordan Flynn and Darren Coen that didn’t come off. O’Shea and Oisin Mullin both saw handpasses close to goal fail to find the intended target.

Chasing the game was always going to be an ordeal against Tyrone but Mayo’s shot selection and decision making fell below par, at a stage when they really needed to summon a surge similar to that which had dragged them level against Dublin. 

4. Tyrone shut up shop at the back

Both Kerry and Mayo in the last couple of games have butchered chances to find the net against Tyrone. If the Ulster champions benefited from wastefulness from opponents on occasions, there is no doubt they have improved vastly from the outfit that leaked six goals in that hammering in Fitzgerald Stadium three months ago.

Donegal’s Caolan McGonagle in the Ulster semi-final is the only player in the championship to have scored a goal against them. Clean sheets in their last three outings in Croke Park have gone a long way to realising their All-Ireland ambitions. Tyrone’s defensive approach is a collective effort but in Morgan they have a wonderful goalkeeper in directing operations. Michael McKernan, Ronan McNamee and in particular Pádraig Hampsey front up in an inside rearguard that did well in policing some of the best forwards in the country.

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5. More Mayo final misery

The statistic has been updated. That’s 11 losses and two draws for Mayo in All-Ireland final outings from 1989 on. In the modern era they have been defeated in six and drawn one since 2012. If there was solace to be taken after those pulsating encounters against Dublin in the 2016 replay and 2017 final, it was that the team had performed excellently for long stretches.

This felt different, a display that contained plenty faults and that dip in performance levels will play on their minds over the winter. 

The outstanding Lee Keegan tried to ignite Mayo’s charge, his response to Tyrone’s second goal was in the space of two minutes to charge upfield for a terrific point and then win a free that was converted. But his efforts couldn’t compensate for problems elsewhere for the Connacht champions.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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