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May-no Mayo picked the worst day, on the biggest day, to play very badly against Tyrone

"This is one of the hardest defeats, maybe THE hardest, to take"

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A Mayo supporter looks on during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

A Mayo supporter looks on during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

A Mayo supporter looks on during Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

For most of last week, I was quietly confident that this would, at last, be Mayo’s year to win the All-Ireland Football final.

That optimism was crushed in Croke Park yesterday evening by a fine Tyrone team who could have won the match by much more than five points.

From a Mayo perspective, this was a dreadful performance, we picked the worst day, the biggest day, to play very badly.

We all knew not to take the ball into the Tyrone tackle and the Tyrone defensive traffic.

Yet Mayo players did it repeatedly in the first half and were turned over 11 times, which led directly to the scoring of five Tyrone points. Madness.

What was the gameplan that saw the players do that? Did they just ignore what the coaching staff told them?

We knew of Tyrone’s tackling and the ferocity in the tackle and we still tried to go hand-to-hand with them.

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A dejected Ryan O'Donoghue and Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo after the All-Ireland football final

A dejected Ryan O'Donoghue and Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo after the All-Ireland football final

A dejected Ryan O'Donoghue and Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo after the All-Ireland football final

We saw players shoot for points from hopelessly optimistic positions — and we didn’t take our goal chances, four of them.

You admire someone with the stones to take on a difficult shot for a score in an All-Ireland final.

But if your team is going to win, they have got to have some chance of going over the crossbar.

Too many Mayo attempts for points yesterday were just off-the-wall in terms of optimism. It was as if the players had no confidence in themselves to work around the Tyrone wall.

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We have previous in that regard. Do you remember the first half against Dublin? Mayo were just taking pot-shots and kicking them miles wide; there was no cohesion to our attacks and that came to pass again in the final.

And one thing really got me fired up watching the game. How many times did Mayo players give short five-yard fisted passes to a colleague?

I mean, that’s just saying: “I’m not doing anything with this ball, you have a go.”

Short passing is only acceptable if you make the run for the return ball, but there was not enough of that from the lads in Green and Red.

Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen were heroes in the second half. They were two players who really did carry the fight to the opposition, but there were not enough of them.

The penalty miss was huge in changing the course of the game. Mayo were just beginning to get a grip on the match and the missed spot-kick was like letting the air out of the balloon.

It also gave Tyrone a huge boost, it was as if they sensed it was going to be another bad day for Mayo.

And if they kicked on and got some scores of their own, they would carry the day.

And of course the penalty was where the loss of Cillian O’Connor came back to bite Mayo.

He’d have taken it, and he’d have taken a few other frees too and he might have got a couple of points from play.

But maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Tyrone were by far the better team in the final and deserved to take possession of the Sam at the end of the match.

So Mayo are back down at the bottom of the hill again.

I feel so sorry for lads like Lee and Aidan O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin, and for James Horan, who have been there so often and suffered yet another All-Ireland final loss.

They will be back next year, let there be no doubt about it, but they must wonder what they have to do to win one.

But next year will be a harder road.

Qualifiers and Round Robins will surely be back.

And you know that, come the business end of the competition, Dublin will be looking for Mayo, after this year’s semi-final.

Equally, Kerry will be even more furious about their semi-final loss now, given the way they pushed Tyrone to extra-time in the semi-final and still only lost by a point.

Yet Tyrone would go on to win the decider so easily.

Next year’s All-Ireland seems a long way away now, when you have lost two All-Ireland Finals in nine months and now six in ten cruel years.

But back in Christmas week last year there was a feeling of “we’re building a new team that will blossom in the years ahead. There will be other chances”.

Well that chance came very quickly, it came yesterday, and that we played so poorly, and made so many basic errors, that the loss will stick in the gut for a long time to come.

This is one of the hardest defeats, maybe THE hardest, to take.

It wasn’t about just being pipped to the winning line by a great Dublin team after we had played our best football.

Yesterday, we just did not turn up for some reason — and it will be a long, long bleak winter out west.

We’ll rise again in the spring, but this loss will sit in our minds for a long time.

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