Saturday 22 October 2016

Erratic Mayo's final quest

They're in sight of Sam but form is a real worry

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor has his shot blocked by Tipperary’s Bill Maher during yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor has his shot blocked by Tipperary’s Bill Maher during yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Robbie Kiely of Tipperary leaves the field after being shown a black card by referee David Coldrick at Croke Park yesterday. Pic: Sportsfile

Maybe, just maybe, Mayo are engaged in a classic rope-a-dope that will lead them up those elusive Hogan Stand steps on the third Sunday in September.

Here's the cunning plan, courtesy of Stephen 'Blackadder' Rochford ...

Convince your players to crawl out of the starting blocks; then get them to explode into life for ten or 15 minutes before the break; and then, with the contest seemingly over, tell them to retreat back into their shells for the second half, on the proviso that they do just enough to sneak over the line.

Roll onto the next round, all hyperbolic talk of All-Ireland deliverance silenced by the team's meandering form graph not just from game to game, but minute to minute.


We jest, of course. This is not Rochford's master plan. He just wants to make Mayo a tougher summer beast, harder to break down, less vulnerable to those costly goal concessions that have wrecked their Sam Maguire ambitions in 2012, '13, '14 and '15.

And, in a way, the plan is working: Mayo didn't concede a goal to a Tipperary team that had found the net ten times during their fairytale five-match run to yesterday's All-Ireland SFC semi-final ... and more important still, they won the match. By five points.

But while the bottom line - Mayo 2-13 Tipperary 0-14 - sounds relatively comfortable, don't be fooled. Mayo have mastered the art of topsy-turvy during this summer's roller-coaster run, but this was as patchy as they've been.

What transpired here in front of 53,212 supporters - an erratic first half rescued by a beguiling shell-burst of scores in the run-up to half-time, but then another alarming form dip on the resumption - had echoes of Galway in June and Kildare and Westmeath in July.

In a way, yesterday was more alarming because the assumption was that Mayo had eventually found their form via the meandering 'back door' route, delivering a performance of substance against Tyrone in the quarter-finals.


What happened next? They reverted to earlier summer stereotype.

It may sound harsh to say Mayo 'only' played for ten minutes - that would also do a grave disservice to Liam Kearns' Tipperary, who arrived in Croke Park primed to deliver a famous upset - but there's a large grain of truth in that assessment too.

They only scored three points (and just one from play) in the first 25 minutes, trailing 0-6 to 0-3 at that juncture. Then, as if ignited by Jason Doherty's goal after defence-shredding approach work by Keith Higgins on 26 minutes, they caught fire from there to the break, outscoring a suddenly reeling Tipp by 1-7 to 0-1 in that crucial period.

As a consequence they led, improbably, by 1-10 to 0-7 at the midpoint. And it could have been more, Kevin McLoughlin blazing over when a second goal beckoned.

But any suggestions that either Mayo would keep going for the jugular or that Tipp would slip away meekly were banished by what followed.

When Diarmuid O'Connor restored Mayo's six-point advantage with one of his trademark, outside-of-the-boot scores in the 37th minute, you waited for the 1/5 favourites to push on. And waited. And waited.

Tipp owned the third quarter, landing the next 0-4 to trim the deficit to just two as their opponents went 18 minutes without a score.

It could have been worse for Mayo, who were reliant on David Clarke's alertness off his line to hack the ball away from Josh Keane, and then on a trilogy of Tipp wides (via Philip Austin, Alan Moloney nd Michael Quinlivan) during this pivotal phase.

Even when Mayo started creating chances again, they initially struggled to make it count. Cillian O'Connor, regressing again after his recent resurgence, made a dubious decision during Mayo's long barren period when he eschewed a badly needed point by playing in Andy Moran from a quick free.

True, it was a goal chance but the impressive Evan Comerford denied Mayo's standout scoring threat and they had to wait another minute before a defender, Colm Boyle, ended the drought.

Even still, Tipp had Mayo within range ... and it required a freakish goal to break their resistance as Evan Regan's slip-and-miscue in attempting a 64th minute point mutated into the perfect through pass for Conor O'Shea. The Mayo sub, loitering with intent, pulled first time and found the bottom corner.

There would be no way back for the Munster underdogs, whose cause wasn't helped by a questionable red card for Bill Maher after an off-the-ball 'dunt' on McLoughlin ... although you could argue that Robbie Kiely's ninth minute black card for bringing down Doherty had a more profoundly negative impact, given Kiely's importance to the Tipp defence and their relative dearth of back-up options.


Mayo also finished with 14, following Donal Vaughan's black card in garbage-time after Rochford had emptied his bench.

They had some really strong performers - Andy Moran was superb in the first half, kicking 0-4; Higgins was a powerhouse driving out of defence; Aidan O'Shea put in a massive shift - but not nearly enough, you suspect, to lift Sam on September 18, be it against Dublin or Kerry.

Maybe semi-finals are all about winning. As the same Aidan O'Shea remarked afterwards: "We went to replays the last two years in semi-finals but came out on the wrong side.

"Today was just about the result."

All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Mayo 2-13 Tipperary 0-14

SCORERS - Mayo: A Moran 0-4, J Doherty, C O'Shea 1-0 each, C O'Connor 0-3f, D O'Connor 0-2, K McLoughlin, L Keegan, A O'Shea, C Boyle 0-1 each.

Tipperary: M Quinlivan 0-7f, C Sweeney 0-3 (1f), K O'Halloran 0-2 (1f), P Austin, B Maher 0-1 each.

MAYO: D Clarke 7; L Keegan 7, B Harrison 6, K Higgins 8; D Vaughan 7, C Boyle 7, P Durcan 6; S O'Shea 6, B Moran 6; D O'Connor 7, A O'Shea 8, K McLoughlin 6; J Doherty 6, A Moran 8, C O'Connor 6. Subs: T Parsons 6 for S O'Shea (53), C O'Shea 7 for Doherty (58), E Regan 5 for A Moran (63), C Barrett for Boyle (67), A Dillon for McLoughlin (69), C Loftus for C O'Connor (71)

TIPPERARY: E Comerford 8; A Campbell 7, C O'Shaughnessy 5, C McDonald 6; B Maher 7, R Kiely 5, J Feehan 7; P Acheson 6, G Hannigan 7; J Keane 6, K O'Halloran 6, B Fox 6; P Austin 6, C Sweeney 8, M Quinlivan 7. Subs: S Leahy 5 for Kiely (black card 10), A Moloney 6 for Leahy (32), S O'Connell 6 for O'Shaughnessy (inj 56), I Fahey for O'Halloran (66), M Dunne for Keane (72).

WIDES: Mayo 11 (6+5); Tipperary 9 (5+4). YELLOW: Mayo 3 (Keegan 41, Higgins 68, D O'Connor 75); Tipperary 2 (McDonald 63, Fox 67). BLACK: Mayo 1 (Vaughan 76); Tipperary 1 (Kiely 9). RED: Mayo 0; Tipperary 1 (Maher, straight red 66).

REF: D Coldrick (Meath). ATT: 53,212

MAN OF THE MATCH: Andy Moran (Mayo)


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