Eugene McGee: Use of repressor Keegan draws intrigue as Rochford's charges go in search of a win worthy of All-Ireland champions
Published 20/08/2016 | 02:30
What do you think will be the most eagerly-awaited question for those watching in Croke Park or elsewhere regarding tomorrow's semi-final meeting of Tipperary and Mayo?
No, not which team will win and advance to play Kerry or Dublin, nor will it be the performance of the referee, as is often the case. What the fans will want to find out is the name of the unfortunate Tipperary player that Lee 'Rambo' Keegan will be allocated to 'target' in the big game.
Will it be star forward Michael Quinlivan, who would dwarf Keegan? Remember that did not worry the Westport man when confronted with Sean Cavanagh, one of the greatest players of the modern era.
Or maybe it will be Tipperary's most important player, midfielder Peter Acheson, a man of perpetual motion. Now that is someone Keegan would relish taming in his own inimitable way. Or what about Tipperary's Conor Sweeney, who scored 2-2 against Galway last time out? Wouldn't Keegan just love to get stuck in on him?
Big men or small men, it is all the same to Keegan as Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly will bear testament to.
Tipperary manager Liam Kearns will not know which of his players will be confronted by Keegan until the ball is thrown in, or maybe even some minutes after that.
How will Kearns have schooled his players to cope with the special qualities that Keegan has as a one-man repressor of opponents? We have to wait and see unless somebody in the Mayo inner circle opens their mouth in advance, which is rare nowadays.
Of course, there is always the possibility, remote perhaps, that some Tipperary player will destroy the Mayo dynamo and what an upset for the books that would be. But bitter experience teaches us all not to bet on that.
Tipperary have been the best thing in football this year. Having been decimated last autumn by emigration and hurling commitments, their cause seemed hopeless, but along came Kearns and he set about making the best of what he had available.
And what a success the Kerryman has made of the task as he and Tipp now stand on the brink of a place in the All-Ireland final.
Beating Cork in Munster for the first time since the 1940s was a massive boost and opened up horizons never before dreamed of in Tipperary football. Sure, they were well beaten by Kerry but they did not panic and worked their way back to smash a fancied Galway team.
What drew admiration nationally was the style and attitude of Tipp, as exemplified in beating Derry and Galway. The players played with freedom of expression and flamboyancy, in complete contrast to the horrible defensive style, laced with ridiculous over hand-passing that so many other counties, good and bad, are employing nowadays.
But of course, you don't get to All-Ireland finals and then win them based on sporting emotions. By this stage, after five years of failure at the highest-level, emotion must be running thin in Mayo.
Mayo fans and players probably feel a lack of ruthlessness has cost them over the years. Against Tyrone they did show an element of that but the poor quality of the Tyrone attack largely undermined that.
Everybody, including some of their own supporters, have been saying for the past two seasons that time is running out for the team and some are past their sell-by date.
This is a bit harsh because Mayo have remained in the top four for the last five years. Indeed, they have a record that has hardly been matched because in those five years, in finals or semi-finals, they have beaten two of the counties and drawn with the third that have won All-Irelands in those years; Dublin, Donegal and Kerry.
This is an extraordinary situation but of course it is of little satisfaction to Mayo people, even though they can say with justification that with even a 10pc swing in those five years they would probably have won a couple of All-Irelands.
Mayo will need to win this match by at least eight or nine points to retain credibility as regards winning the All-Ireland final.
I thought they had a bit of extra cutting edge and steel in overcoming Tyrone and even though it has always been said that they lack a couple of brilliant forwards, this year's attack looks better than most in recent years. But they need to score two or three goals as well.