Tyrone strode even further into the record books when they added the All Ireland Minor football title to their Sam Maguire Cup success by overcoming a gritty Mayo side in a thrilling final replay at Pearse Park, Longford on Saturday.
In a match that would have done more than justice to senior level, the Red Hands displayed ferocious commitment, boundless character and a reservoir of skill in finally killing off Mayo’s challenge after the westerners had stayed on their shoulder for the greater part of an absorbing contest.
Tyrone, who were forced to bring Ruairi Keenan in at midfield for Martin Rogers, are now the undoubted high kings of football. They carried that extra flourish up front and greater level of cohesion all round the park to take them over the finishing line but only after a tense spell of extra-time.
No wonder their manager Raymond Munroe was ecstatic at the finish.
“Unbelievable, just unbelievable,” he gushed, “These boys are just special, they gave everything in winning this All Ireland.”
Mayo manager Raymond Dempsey was understandably deflated.
“For my team to have given so much over both games and to finish up empty-handed is just heartbreaking,” he sighed.
Ahead by 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time with Conor O’Neill, Kyle Coney and Paddy McNeice already proving a hot handful for the Mayo defence, Tyrone were nonetheless unable to shake off their opponents in a fascinating second-half that threw up some wonderful passages of play from both teams.
Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly pulled off a series of stunning saves to keep his side’s hopes alive while Aidan O’Shea was a colossus all over the park and Aidan Walsh proved their primary source of scores from frees.
The sides were level on no fewer than five occasions over the course of the last twenty minutes before Walsh, with his sixth point, sent the game into extra-time after the Connacht side’s wing-back Shane Nally had fired over the best score of the game from far out on the left. But it was in the first minute of extra-time that the pendulum decisively swung in Tyrone’s favour, Conor O’Neill managing to poke the ball into the Mayo net after goalkeeper Hennelly had uncharacteristically fumbled.
From then on the Red Hands grew in stature, Coney teaming up with Niall McKenna to dominate at midfield and O’Neill and Matthew Donnelly full of invention up front. But Mayo had no intention of throwing in the towel and when midfielder James Cafferty fisted in their goal in the eighth minute of extra-time, Tyrone’s nerves started to jangle.
A point from a penalty by Peter Harte with three minutes to go and another almost immediately from McKenna, though, helped to ease them to glory in a match that highlighted Tyrone’s awesome depth of talent.
TYRONE: T Harney; F McQuaid, G Teague, R Tierney (0-2); S MacRory, P Harte (0-1, pen), R McNabb (0-1); N McKenna (0-2), R Keenan; C Gervin (0-1), D McNulty, M Donnelly (0-2); K Coney (0-5), P McNeice (0-3, all frees) C O'Neill (1-3, 0-2 frees),. Substitutes: M Rogers for Keenan (47mins), K Mossey for MacRory (48), S Warnock for McNulty (49), R McGarvey for Tierney (78).
MAYO: R Hennelly; D Dolan, K Keane, J Broderick; S McHale, E Reilly (0-1), S Nally (0-2), J Cafferty (1-1), G McDonagh, C Freeman, A O'Shea (0-3, 0-2 frees), R Geraghty (0-1); C Charlton, A Walsh (0-6, 0-5 frees), A Corduff. Substitutes : D O'Hara (0-1) for Charlton (31 mins), D Gavin for Geraghty (46) J Carney for McHale (71)