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Saturday 10 December 2016

Mayo must guard against 'no show'

Tipperary men have nothing to lose so are dangerous

Mayo forward Andy Moran. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo forward Andy Moran. Pic: Sportsfile

One of the hardest things to do going into a game where you're heavily expected to win is ignoring all the people telling you that you're going to win.

We used to use the analogy of a bell-jar, where the only noise we paid attention to were the ones being made on the inside of our group but that's not always the easiest thing either.

The longer Dublin went without winning an All-Ireland, the more people were excitedly talking you into finals.

It's natural. But it's unhelpful.

I can only imagine the nature of the chat in Mayo after they beat Tyrone and the reality dawned that they were a win over Tipperary away from another All-Ireland SFC final appearance.

Assumptions are dangerous.

They've had luck, mind.

Mayo, should they do what I expect them to do, will be in All-Ireland final by Sunday evening without having played a Division 1 team in the Championship this year.

Impressive

And for all their gumption and impressive determination in beating Tyrone in the quarter-final, I still think that was a game Mickey Harte's team could have won if they had attacked the result a bit more.

Mayo look better for Andy Moran back starting up front.

He's one of those footballers you'd love to play with.

Between injury and the inevitable effects of ageing, he's been written off two or three times now but his ball-winning ability is still as good as anything that's out there.

He's probably lost the capability to turn and go by defenders but he's so unselfish when he wins it that he has a great knack of bringing Mayo's most explosive scorers into play.

He's a fella who, if you made that run off his shoulder, you'd be certain he'd give it to you.

He'll reward the run every time.

Not that he's looked particularly happy to be coming off the bench in the past few years but if you go back through it, he's one of the few forwards to make a real and telling impact from reserve in the big matches.

Mayo's crux was that they knew Moran would make a difference after coming on.

And not every forward - even the very good ones - have that ability.

And epitomises everything Mayo have been about in these past few 'almost but not quite there' years.

He's a real, genuine leader in that team and you can see a lot of guys look up to him and are probably playing a little bit for him.

If there's anyone I'd like to see win an All-Ireland from Mayo, it would be Andy Moran because nobody can argue with the service he's given to his county.

That they will make another final isn't an inconsiderable achievement given all that's gone on between forcing their management out last year and that loss to Galway back in June.

That was probably a dose of reality for them and sometimes you need a loss like that to take a step back. It forced them to have a really hard look at themselves but whether by accident or design, the team has knitted nicely together.

Mayo's two biggest problems have been their propensity to concede goals at the worst times and the performances of their forwards in All-Ireland finals.

Whether they've done enough to correct those two flaws, we'll have to wait until September to see.

Certainly, with Moran back in the attack, Mayo should see an improvement in the latter but he's not as prolific as he once was which means they need Cillian O'Connor, Diarmuid O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea all chipping in with an average of around five points each if they're to win an All-Ireland final.

Potentially, Diarmuid O'Connor is the ace in their pack if he's fully fit.

There are few, if any, half forwards in the country as prolific as he is and his ball-carrying and use of possession is as good as I've seen.

They're also using O'Shea wisely by moving him between the lines because if you know for certain he'll play at full-forward for the whole match, it's easy to put a big man on him to break ball to your half-backs.

He has the full repertoire of skills and as it is, he's more elusive and when he does go inside, he is one of the few forwards in the game capable of making a goal from nothing.

Starting Alan Dillon against Tyrone was a strange one but his ball use is so good, they obviously felt it was better to have him on influencing play early on than to finish with him.

You still just couldn't be totally sure of them at the back.

Kevin McLoughlin's redeployment as a sweeper makes sense.

He reads the game well and when he helps turn a man over, he carries the ball with great speed and purpose from the back but he's not the sort of player who will make much difference if any team decides to rain ball in on top of their full-back line.

Lee Keegan went in at full-back to mark Seán Cavanagh but against a more direct, target man in Michael Quinlivan this weekend, they might need a different approach.

Or at least, a tweak.

Tipperary play a lot of diagonal ball into Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney so I think the Mayo full-back line will be tested but whether Tipperary get enough possession to really go at them is another question.

And it's a cliché but it's true: Tipperary have noting to lose on Sunday, which makes them a bit more dangerous.

There is no outcome that can ruin their season. Mayo have everything to lose, so they have to stay in the process and not get distracted by where they will be if they win.

It's play-by-play. Minute-by-minute. Get to half-time ahead and once the second-half starts, see that out. Because presuming yourself to be in an All-Ireland final is the surest way to fail to get there.

Presuming yourself to be in an All-Ireland final is the surest way to fail to get there.

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