By Barry O’Donnell
FIRST the good news… to say Tyrone’s track record in Castlebar is very good would be something of an understatement.
In fact you have to go all the way back to Art MacRory and Eugene McKenna’s first match in charge as a joint management team in 1992 for the last occasion that the Red Hands came up short in a league clash at MacHale Park. There has been the odd draw there since but more often than not it has been the visitors who have emerged with the spoils.
Now for the bad news… the contrasting form of both counties going into this Saturday night’s latest Division One encounter out west.
Whereas Tyrone were blown off course against Galway in windswept Tuam on Sunday as they suffered their fourth away defeat in five league matches over the past 12 months, a rejuvenated Mayo, now under the stewardship of former star Kevin McStay, waltzed to a seven point victory at home to All-Ireland champions Kerry the night before.
In terms of ‘home’ cooking Mayo seem to be feasting on what is being served up inside their own front door these days, and will be desperate to continue to gorge at Tyrone’s expense this weekend.
That said, on the last two visits by the Red Hands to Castlebar they also appeared to have their work cut out for them. However in 2018 they put the hosts to the sword 2-14 to 0-8, while at a deserted stadium amid the Covid campaign of 2020, both Conor McKenna and Darragh Canavan were on fire as the visitors prevailed 3-14 to 1-19 consigning Mayo to relegation out of the top flight for the first time in 23 years in the process.
Unlike then, MacHale Park is likely to be rocking this Saturday with their buoyant supporters no doubt coming out in huge supporters again hoping to see their side take the scalp of their great northern rivals.
The likes of Ryan O’Donoghue, Jordan Flynn and Colm Reape are some of the emerging young stars aiming to spearhead Mayo’s pursuit of top honours, as father time starts to catch up on those stout-hearted warriors who have so often gone into battle in the green and red jersey in the past.
Tyrone missed their opportunity to press home their territorial advantage on the scoreboard when they wrested a grip on the Galway tie in the early stages of the second half at the weekend, and a couple of passed up goal scoring chances came back to haunt them.
Despite the disappointment of coming up short yet again on their travels, former Tyrone player and assistant manager Gavin Devlin feels that the squad shouldn’t dwell too long on the outcome and quickly turn their thoughts to the next trip into Connacht.
“There is only six days to get ready for Mayo which will be a massive game down there. You have to take what you can out of the Galway game and there were plenty of good points.
“You have to move on as quickly as possible and get switched on for Mayo. They will have key threats that we will have to look after and we may want to adapt certain things on kick-outs or defensive plays or different things that you will want to try and exploit in their attack. The longer that you keep an eye on last week is another day killed in your preparation so you have to move on quickly to Mayo and get on with it.”
While Mayo looked impressive in accounting for Kerry last Saturday Devlin insisted that mitigating circumstances should be taken into account.
“Mayo were decent the other night but Kerry look to be in that moment that Tyrone were in last year especially with David Clifford only coming off an All Ireland win with his club.
“I wouldn’t read too much into Mayo beating Kerry. If Tyrone get down to work this week and really test Mayo I would fancy Tyrone any day of the week but they have to find the solution to why they fall asleep in the second half and let the opposition get a wee bit of a run on them.”
Devlin insisted that Tyrone should look to exploit the fact that Mayo will be heavily backed to prevail on their home patch.
“It’s obviously going to be a tough test to go there after they beat Kerry but maybe when all is said and done we aren’t in a bad spot. Outside the group nobody is expecting Tyrone to win and all the pressure will be on Mayo after that big win last weekend so Brian and Fearghal will no doubt be relishing it.
“Mayo like to play an offensive game and take their opponents on and they have a number of really dangerous forwards such as Ryan O’Donoghue that we will have to keep a close eye on. They are quite lethal up front but from midfield back I think that our forwards can get at their defence if we can get enough ball into them. Tyrone are in a good enough spot, they just need a few tweaks.”