THROUGHOUT some dismal performances, no one has tried harder to drag Mayo out of the abyss than David Clarke. And on Sunday, when they found form for the first time this season, their goalkeeper was again Mayo’s inspiration.
In his command of the area, in his conviction and bottle, Clarke transcended his own impressive accomplishments and fittingly personified the character that wrung from his colleagues an unlikely victory in Omagh.
In the light of Kerry’s unlikely draw with Monaghan, how vital that victory now is! Two points, we thought, from the remaining two games would have sustained Mayo’s stay in the premier division.
Now we find that at least a point from Donegal in the final game of the series next Sunday is vital to survival. And only a restatement of Sunday’s determination will bring the desired result.
In the gripping fury of the final minutes of Sunday’s game, victory could have swung in any direction. It went to Mayo when pride eventually challenged the hopelessness of so much of their league performance.
In this last gasp effort they played with muscle and nerve ... unified in the common purpose of survival. It would have been enough but for Kerry’s slip in Breffni Park, and next Sunday they have do it all over the field again.
They have to call again for the midfield mastery Tom Parsons displayed. His goal seven minutes from the end of the first half was the catalyst that tilted the game in Mayo’s direction.
He got inside the Tyrone defence, a task Mayo have found notoriously difficult to achieve against total defending. Fergal Boland set up the opportunity with a diagonal ball won by Cillian O’Connor.
From the Ballintubber man’s efficient foot-pass, Andy Moran was able to offload smartly to the inrushing Parsons who glided the ball cooly into the far corner of the net.
It illuminated Mayo. There was a way round the opposing defence at last, and for once this season, their play reflected their ability to prise it open.
Cillian, also sharper and more determined, snatched a point immediately afterwards and both scores helped Mayo to lead at the interval. The Ballintubber man was back to his best in winning ball and scoring freely.
Parsons also put a lot of effort into his tackling and general contribution, and so did all of those from whom extra effort was essential.
Patrick Durcan, in his more accustomed wing berth, showed strength and desire in his bursts out of defence. Colm Boyle was the driving force of the back line, brave and effective as ever in his tackling ... and exemplary in everything he did.
Mayo lost Lee Keegan after 20 minutes to a black-card offence, and halfway through the second half Danny Kirby was similarly dismissed. Both were blatant fouls. But the dismissal of Niall Sludden for a similar offence was less certain.
Tyrone, who had swiched Mattie Donnelly to partner Colm Cavanagh in the middle of the field, dominated the early part of the second half, but poor marksmanship and good defensive work by Mayo denied them an equalising score until the 44th minute when Kieran McGeary got their ninth point.
Mark Bradley was their outstanding forward, but as their font of scores began to dry up, Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrison worked harder and grew stronger as a unit supported by the brilliance of David Clarke in goal.
Shane Nally, on from the start, was an adequate replacement for Conor O’Shea, and in the unusual role of wing forward, David Drake displayed a versatility that will please Stephen Rochford in his search for forwards.
Danny Kirby showed some nice flashes at midfield up to his dismissal and the experience of Kevin McLoughlin was never more evident than in latching on to a fine delivery by substitute Donal Vaughan to score the winning point minutes from the end.
There was promise, too, in the displays of substitutes Stephen Coen and Jason Doherty, and in steady ball-winning ability of Andy Moran.
The introduction of Aidan O’Shea was a vital move in disrupting the unity of the Tyrone defence and in restoring a winning pulse to Mayo amid the white heat of battle.