All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Mayo blitz Tipp
All-Ireland SFC semi-final
MAYO 5-20 TIPPERARY 3-13
By John Harrington at Croke Park
As a freezing mist descended on Croke Park in the first half of this All-Ireland semi-final, the Tipperary footballers must have felt like they were in a remake of that 1980s horror film, The Fog.
Mayo players kept ghosting from the gloom on slashing runs that tore the Tipp defence to shreds and saw them score 4-12 in the first half alone and effectively decide the contest in those 35 minutes.
Cillian O’Connor was the frightener in chief, scoring three goals in that first half and finishing with a personal tally of 4-9 to further underline that he is now very much operating at the peak of his powers.
Tipperary will reflect that they were a little naïve in a second quarter that was ultimately the losing of the match as far as they were concerned.
Too often they tried to run the ball out from their half down the middle of the pitch where Mayo bodies were heavily concentrated instead of along the flanks where there were fewer obstacles.
The net result was that Mayo forced turnover after turnover that enabled them to outscore Tipperary by 2-6 to 0-3 in the final 15 minutes of the first half. And that, effectively, was the game.
The likelihood coming into the match was that if Tipperary were to pull off a shock then they were going to have to ruthlessly take every goal chance that came their way.
Unfortunately for them, they missed two glorious ones in the first nine minutes when a couple of green flags might have made the world of difference.
First, Michael Quinlivan found himself clean through on goal with only David Clarke to beat after Lee Keegan failed to collect a high ball.
The Tipperary attacker tried to round Clarke and side-foot the ball left-footed to the net, but the Mayo goalkeeper showed great agility to dive to his right and palm the ball out for a ’45 which Tipp missed.
Five minutes later Conor Sweeney did brilliantly to collect a high ball across the square from Quinlivan one-handed, but his shot on the turn was blasted straight at Clark who parried the ball to safety.
That miss stung all the more when Mayo scored the first goal of the match a minute later after an incisive move that involved all three members of their full-forward line.
Aidan O’Shea won the ball and transferred it to Tommy Conroy who did brilliantly to float a hand-pass to the far post where Cillian O’Connor was waiting to palm it to the net.
That initial dam-burst didn’t immediately herald the deluge to follow because Tipperary struck back with a goal of their a minute later when Brian Fox did brilliantly to wriggle his way past a couple of tacklers before squeezing a low shot past the advancing Clark which just about made it over the line before Diarmuid O’Connor hacked it clear.
There was only a point in it now, 1-2 to 1-1 in Mayo’s favour, but from there the Connacht champions took complete control of the contest.
Tipperary were struggling to win clean possession off their own goal-kicks, and even when they did Mayo consistently forced turnovers in the opposition half with the tenacity of their tackling.
Three Mayo points in quick succession came from their dominance of the Tipperary kick-out, as they quickly opened up a five point lead.
The longer the game went on, the more Mayo’s edge in pace all over the field began to tell.
It was all to easy for them to put on the after-burners and force Tipperary defenders to concede frees that O’Connor clipped over. Ryan O’Donoghue was especially effective at angling his pacey runs in such a way as to draw the foul.
Tommy Conroy was also growing more and more influential in attack, and his second point of the day after a sharp turn and shot moved Mayo 1-9 to 1-3 ahead by the 24th minute.
That’s when things quickly went from bad to much, much worse from a Tipperary point of view as they conceded three goals in the space of the next nine minutes.
O’Connor got his and Mayo’s second when he was put through by a sublime Aidan O’Shea hand-pass and finished emphatically past Evan Comerford.
O’Connor’s third was nothing short of disastrous from a Tipperary point of view as Liam Casey’s attempted cross-field pass to Comerford was intercepted by the outstretched hand of the ever alert Mayo attacker.
The fourth goal was a soft one too. Cillian O’Connor floated in a ’45 and his brother Diarmuid timed a nice run to follow it in and palm it to the net before Comerford could claim it.
The half-time whistle blew shortly afterwards, and the game was already over as a contest with Mayo leading by 4-12 to 1-5.
The second-half was little more than a formality, but you have to give Tipperary credit for the fact that they never stopped battling.
Even when O’Connor scored his fourth goal of the day after profiting from Bill Maher’s unfortunate slip, the Premier County continued playing for pride.
They earned plenty of it too, and it should be a concern for Mayo going into the All-Ireland Final that Tipperary were able to carve them open so often for genuine goal-chances.
Lee Keegan earned a black card for hauling down Michael Quinlivan just outside the square as he raced through, Bill Maher was felled in similar fashion when he also cut through the Mayo defence, and then Philip Austin’s goal-bound shot was brilliantly saved by the diving Pádraig O’Hora.
Tipperary finally got the goal their incisive attacking thrusts deserved when substitute Paudie Feehan finished clinically after a slicing run, and they nearly had another when Liam Boland’s shot squirmed past the wrong side of the post.
The finished with a flourish too, Conor Sweeney showing real class to place a ball in the top corner of the net for his team’s third goal, and Michael Quinlivan nearly had a fourth in injury-time.
Perhaps Mayo’s concentration had waned because they had such a buffer on the scoreboard, but you can be sure James Horan will have a few things to say about how easily his team coughed up multiple goal-chances and ended up losing the second-half.
They’ll certainly need a few more road-blocks at the back if they’re the stop the Dublin juggernaut in the All-Ireland Final, but sometimes it’s no harm to have a few work-ons to focus the mind ahead of a match of that magnitude.
Scorers for Mayo: Cillian O’Connor 4-9 (0-6 frees); Tommy Conroy 0-4 (1 mark); Diarmuid O’Connor 1-0, Darren Coen 0-2; M Ruane, P Durcan, K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, C Loftus 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: Conor Sweeney 1-9 (0-8 frees); Brian Fox 1-0, Paudie Feehan 1-0; Colin O’Riordan 0-2; Steven O’Brien 0-1, Kevin Fahey 0-1
MAYO: David Clarke; Oisín Mullin, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan; Patrick Durcan, Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin; Conor Loftus, Matthew Ruane; Kevin McLoughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue, Diarmuid O’Connor; Tommy Conroy, Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor. Subs: Jordan Flynn for Diarmuid O’Connor (43), Padraig O’Hora for Chris Barrett (48), Michael Plunkett for Eoghan McLaughlin (53), Tom Parsons for Ryan O’Donoghue (55), Darren Coen for Cillian O’Connor (66)
TIPPERARY: Evan Comerford; Alan Campbell, Jimmy Feehan, Colm O’Shaughnessy; Bill Maher, Kevin Fahey, Robbie Kiely; Steven O’Brien, Liam Casey; Colin O’Riordan, Michael Quinlivan, Conal Kennedy; Brian Fox, Conor Sweeney, Colman Kennedy. Subs: Emmet Moloney for Liam Casey (ht), Philip Austin for Brian Fox (ht), Paudie Feehan for Robbie Kiely (54), Daire Brennan for Jimmy Feehan (56), Liam Boland for Colman Kennedy (56)
Ref: David Gough (Meath)