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All Ireland SFC Semi-Final: Mayo 2-13 0-14 Tipperary

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David did not slay Goliath today as Mayo secured their berth in the All Ireland SFC final with a five point victory over Tipperary at Croke Park this afternoon. Apart from a scintillating ten minute spell before the interval where the Connacht team hit 1-7 to 0-1, this was a performance which at times baffled and at times highlighted the fear of losing from a Mayo perspective.

The good news for Mayo is that they will enter the All Ireland finale as a massive underdog, the pressure of expectancy from within the county should be diluted to a certain extent and allow management and panel to focus on producing their most complete performance this season. Keith Higgins, Andy Moran and Aidan O’Shea stood up to the fore when questions were asked of Mayo before the interval and the last ten minutes of the opening period was inspired by all three players vital contributions.

Higgins was instrumental in the opening Mayo goal of the contest, bursting through the Tipperary rearguard to setup Jason Doherty with the simplest of tasks. The green flag then resulted in an avalanche of points with both Moran and O’Shea spearheading the point scoring stakes. Tipperary were rattled and the half-time whistle was greeted by the Premier County like a boxer on the ropes and hearing the bell for the end of the round.

The bad news for Mayo is that vast improvement is required in both defensive and attacking side of play. Tipperary exposed Mayo defensively with swift running lines in the opening period leaving massive gaps for the likes of Sweeney and Austin to exploit. Mayo backs conceded several poor frees in this period and a repeat in four weeks times will spell curtains for their Sam Maguire ambitions this season.

After attempting to convert Kevin McLaughlin as a sweeper, it was a surprise to see Barry Moran assigned the role for this contest positioned behind his half-back line. In fairness, Moran did what was expected and won aerial ball defensively but his lack of pace will be exploited by Dublin or Kerry in four weeks time. Were Mayo trying to pull the wool over Kerry or Dublin eyes? Kevin McLauglin will surely be deployed as a sweeper in the final.

The more worrying point for Mayo is the lack of form of the O’Connor brothers leading into the final. Cillian O’Connor was quiet in open play and Diarmuid wasted several opportunities from play (perhaps due to coming back from injury) but their off day was masked by the performance of Andy Moran whose four point haul bailed out the Mayo inside full forward line. Doherty’s influence was minimal apart from his goal. Mayo need the O’Connors to fire in four weeks time to provide additional forward line threat.

The one aspect of play that Mayo deployed this afternoon was to remove Lee Keegan from his marauding half-back running role and assigned him the role of nullifying Tipperary danger man Michael Quinlivan. The experiment did not work as Keegan’s persistent fouling on another day could have proved crucial and seen a dismissal.

Keegan struggled to mark Quinlivan and perhaps was fortunate not to get a second yellow card for pulling the Clonmel Commercial marksman in the penalty area in the second half.  Keegan is a natural wing back, his scoring prowess is sensational. Back to the drawing board on finding a defender who can tightly mark and nullify an opposition key player.

Tipperary will rue this opportunity. Mayo were under-par for vast majorities of this contest. The first twenty minutes was dominated by Tipperary where Acheson, Austin and Sweeney were to the fore with their running lines. The key decisions did not go their way and the spotlight on the black card will ensue.

Robbie Kiely has trained all year to make an appearance in the All Ireland semi-final and the black card was embarrassingly harsh; genuine attempt to go for the ball which Diarmuid O’Connor had no control of was a free but certainly not a black card. It affected Tipperary’s shape as his replacement Leahy was ineffective and had to be replaced by Moloney. Two substitutions for the Tipperary side and it exposed lack of depth on the bench.

The performance of the match official and linesmen today left a lot to be desired. When you consider how McGoldrick officiated the All Ireland finale last season where Kerry and Dublin were guilty of deliberate fouling with no black card issued, it is ironic that the Meath official thought it was the right time to issue a black card to a player from Tipperary who was plying his trade in NFL Division 3.

If a similar coming together happens next weekend, chances are that the match official will not issue a black card. It was a ridiculous decision and one that affected Tipperary in the manner of their attacks. Kiely’s endless running would have posed Mayo massive issues but it was not to be. Harsh for a player who has excelled this season at half-back.

The second decision was the sending off of wing back Maher. A decision coming no doubt from the linesman. Handbags incident and a red card issued. I would love if the GAA published officials post-game reports on these incidents as there was precious little in the incident. The game was probably over as a contest when the red card was issued but it was another decision which went against the minnow. Wondering again if an incident like this happens next weekend, will a red card be issued? Probably a good chance it will not.

The decisions went against Tipperary but they were their own worse enemy. The Mayo opening goal was down to a risky hand pass by  O’Shaughnessy in the middle of the field and it was latched onto by Mayo leading with Higgins exposing Kiely’s absence to setup Doherty for the green flag. The lack of movement from Tipperary to provide outlets for Comerford in the kick outs after the goal allowed Mayo to assert their dominance and their class shone through with the emphatic 1-7 haul before half-time.

Tipperary’s heart and determination could not faulted and their fightback to reduce the arrears to two point 1-11 to 0-12 was admirable but again several missed opportunities proved fatal. Tipperary’s dominance in the second half was not illustrated on the scoreboard and Mayo finished the game off with a goal from Conor O’Shea who latched onto a miskick from Evan Regan. No Tipperary defenders were alert to the potential danger inside and the Breaffy clubman hit a nice effort into the net despite the best efforts of Comerford who saved well earlier in the half from point blank range.

The second Mayo goal spelled the end of the contest and Mayo decided to hold onto what they had, falling deeper defensively. No goal chances from Tipperary were created in the last quarter, something which will encourage Mayo management. Plenty of scope to improve for Mayo but given the media articles which will write them off in the upcoming weeks, I expect Mayo to produce a performance in the All Ireland final. Whether it is good enough to win Sam Maguire is an entirely different story.

For Tipperary, a memorable championship concludes. The absentees to the panel at the start of the year makes this run even more extraordinary. Liam Kearns stock continues to rise and their game plan worked perfectly for long periods to stifle Mayo. The likes of Conor Sweeney, Michael Quinlivan and Robbie Kiely are now known to the GAA fraternity and expect at least one of these players to get a nod in the All Star awards.

Acheson and Hannigan in midfield typified all that was good with Tipperary this season, leadership and drove the team forward. Tipperary need to reset their goals; secure NFL Division 3 promotion and perhaps a jaunt at Munster honors next season. Tipperary’s skill set was refreshing to see, the focus now is to develop a squad which can continue the work of this season.