Sunday 24 February 2019

Mayo and Tipp ready to renew rivalry

Test: Liam Kearns
Test: Liam Kearns

Twenty-five minutes into their All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 2016, Tipperary led Mayo by double scores, 0-6 to 0-3. The impossible dream - a Tipp team in the third week of September, not the first - was suddenly, well, more than possible.

Liam Kearns' trailblazers couldn't quite sustain it; Jason Doherty hit an equalising goal a minute later and Mayo meandered to a five-point win.

Tipp will renew their novel rivalry with Mayo tomorrow (5pm, Sky Sports). It may be a round-two qualifier in Thurles, not a Croker last-four showdown, but it's still a huge game.

And not just for Mayo, even if most of the focus and a majority of fans in Semple Stadium will come with a green-and-red hue.

Mayo's penchant for Galway-inflicted early-summer blues has brought them to that familiar juncture: can they sustain their focus and energy levels to survive another 'back door' tightrope act?

Limerick were never going to ask the searching questions that Derry, Clare and Cork did last summer ... Tipperary, on their day, certainly can.

But after their surprising 11-point implosion against Cork four weeks ago, there are almost as many questions about Tipp as there have been about Mayo.

"Probably our worst setback in the three years we have been together," Kearns admitted.

Home advantage didn't work the oracle against Cork; it's a moot point whether it will help Tipp given the certainty of another Mayo invasion and the fact that their rivals seem to perform far better away from the pressure-cooker of Castlebar.

But, as ever, Stephen Rochford is facing big selection calls. Lee Keegan (just back from shoulder surgery), Diarmuid O'Connor (suspended after his red mist moment against Galway) and Andy Moran (held in reserve) didn't start the Limerick cakewalk as Rochford road-tested several new or recalled options. Keegan came on, as did Moran who bagged a late brace of goals.

If a lower-tier opponent had been drawn, it's conceivable that the rookie likes of Cian Hanley and James Durcan would get another chance to impress.

But Tipp, on form, pose a real danger and Keegan may be required to man-mark Michael Quinlivan. Time will tell if this heavyweight trio start - and if Mayo are far from finished.

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