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The West is well and truly awake, Mayo are back and all is right in the world of Gaelic Football once more.
It’s an exciting time for fans of the Yew County with James Horan returning to the helm just in time to make a run at stopping Dublin’s ‘drive for five’, and going by their early season form one would be hard-pressed to find a team who look more capable of thwarting Jim Gavin’s men.
Mayo travelled north on Sunday to take on a Tyrone side looking to bounce back following an opening day defeat in Killarney. Given that both sides have contested All-Ireland finals in the last two seasons, a tight contest was expected, but in truth, once Mayo got motoring Tyrone had no answer.
Take Keith Higgins goal, for example, Aidan O’Shea to Diarmuid O’Connor, O’Connor to Lee Keegan. Keegan kicks it long into Andy Moran who lays it off to Keith Higgins… Goal.
Keith Higgins GOALS for Mayo pic.twitter.com/VCFLKw8l7N
— The GAA (@officialgaa) February 3, 2019
It wasn’t all about the old dogs though. The key to Mayo’s success today – and possibly going forward – was the injection of youth to their forward division.
Two men stood tallest in Healy Park on Sunday, Fionn McDonagh and Ciaran Tracy. The half-forwards played with adventure and fervour that was a joy to watch and a proper throwback to the days before the blanket.
Here, we take a look at Mayo’s 10 & 12 and highlight the influence they had on what was a statement of intent from James Horan’s men.
Westport’s McDonagh notched 1-03 in a man of the match performance with his direct style of play troubling the Ulster men throughout.
McDonagh’s first score of the game came after eight minutes when he got on the end of a Donal Vaughan pass. However, the move started with McDonagh collecting the ball inside his own half.
He picks it up from Stephen Coen before transitioning into attack with a kick pass towards Aidan O’Shea who draws the foul.
From the resulting free-kick, three passes later and McDonagh finds himself in a position to kick a score.
Note the timings on the two clips. McDonagh picks the ball up deep in his own half on 8:15, he kicks the score from the opposition’s 21-metre yard line at 8:39.
Whilst McDonagh’s first score displayed all the skills involved with linking defence and attack, Tracey’s two first-half scores displayed a different facet of the old-fashioned half-forward play.
Again, Mayo utilises the kick-pass, trying to create one on ones with their inside forwards, Tracey starts on the wing but cuts in-field at speed to take a pass off the shoulder and score immediately. Classic half-forward play.
Both scores were a carbon-copy of the other and portray not only superb support play but also accuracy, speed of thought, and the ability to kick long-range scores whilst under pressure.
It wasn’t long before McDonagh was in on the act again. This time he ghosts into space to kick his second score of the game.
The Westport man shows incredible awareness to pull away from Coen as he receives the ball to create the space for himself, before quickly cutting on to his left foot and striking over the bar before being blocked down.
Whilst it looks like a relatively simple score, the fact that he is able to find these types of positions and space, especially against a team of Tyrone’s calibre, has to be commended.
McDonagh brought the curtain down on an excellent first half with his second point and he quickly followed up with his third moments after the restart.
Again he finds himself in acres of space after calling for a free kick to be taken quickly by Andy Moran. Despite identifying the space and attacking it, he still has a lot to do upon gathering the ball.
McDonagh is immediately surrounded by two Tyrone defenders, showing beautiful footwork to spin off the first and sidestep the second before kicking a score off-balance. This was probably the best score of the day, not just because of the skill, bravery and cuteness shown by McDonagh, but because in today’s game we see all too often forwards recycle the ball back out when under pressure.
McDonagh doesn’t seem to feel the pressure though. This is his third point of the afternoon and Mayo look to have it won.
At this point, the game is up. Mayo lead by eight with a little over 10 minutes to go.
McDonagh is not finished though, not yet. Yet again, he identifies the space before ghosting into it unattended and calls for a quick free-kick.
When he receives it there is only one thing on McDonagh’s mind and that is a goal. He shows great offensive nouse to cut off the Tyrone defenders run meaning he can’t get tackled, while also creating the opportunity to go for goal with that trusty left boot.
Once that is done, there is only one more thing to do and that’s finish. Low, hard and into the corner. Game over.
It must be said that Tyrone were simply not at the races today despite their strong opening, but Mayo fans will have every right to get excited about the year ahead.
Not only has Horan’s return seemed to revitalise a squad that many viewed as having passed their sell-by date, but previously unknown quantities are also beginning to stand up and be counted.
With Keegan, O’Shea, Moran et al still producing the goods, add in the dynamism of McDonagh & Tracey, as well as the killer instinct of Brian Reape inside and you have a legitimate All-Ireland contender once again.