Monday 26 September 2016

Premier no softies but hard experience gives Connacht side massive advantage

Published 20/08/2016 | 02:30

Alan Campbell and Séamus O'Shea ahead of the semi-final Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Alan Campbell and Séamus O'Shea ahead of the semi-final Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It goes like this. Everyone praises Tipperary for disrupting the predictive sequence but then forecasts their demise in the next game.

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With the exception of the Munster first-round clash with Waterford, Tipperary were long-odds outsiders against Cork, Kerry, Derry and Galway, yet won three times.

It's the same tomorrow. The general view is that Tipperary will give an excellent account of themselves, only to find that it's not enough against a Mayo team whose consistency in the Championship over six seasons is bettered only by Dublin.

A solid logic underpins that viewpoint. Mayo are better than Cork, Derry and Galway, none of whom came close to shackling the Tipperary attack.

Galway's win over Mayo might raise a query on why Stephen Rochford's men are now considered ahead of their neighbours but the answer is simple.

There's a massive difference between the Mayo team of mid-June and now.

For some inexplicable reason they collapsed after putting themselves in a winning position against Galway, a jolt that brought a new perspective to their year.

The revolt against management last autumn suddenly came under scrutiny, leaving the players faced with the reality that unless they re-focused quickly, their season would soon be over.

The consequences would have been unpleasant as they would be seen as a group who blamed the previous management but failed to deliver anything under a new regime either.

Luck broke Mayo's way in the qualifiers, handing them two home games (Fermanagh and Kildare), followed by a clash with Westmeath, who are on their way to Division 4.

It left the quarter-final clash with Tyrone as the first real test of Mayo's All-Ireland credentials and, in fairness, the response was impressive.

It was much more like the Mayo of old - balanced, hard-working and self-assured. And a touch cynical too, it must be said. That - rather than any earlier version of Mayo - is what Tipperary will encounter.

Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney, who between them scored 3-5 from play against Galway, will find much more traffic in front of the Mayo goal.

Josh Keane, Peter Acheson, Robbie Kiely and Bill Maher, who were largely untouched by Galway hands as they rampaged upfield, will find their runs checked before they start.

Tipperary hit Cork, Derry and Galway for an average of 2-18, a return which Mayo will have targeted for a cut of at least 40pc.

Even then, it would be higher than what Mayo conceded against Tyrone.

Also, Tipperary restricted Galway to 1-10 but had earlier conceded an average of 2-18 against Cork, Kerry and Derry.

It's an indication of how prolific Tipperary were that they beat Cork and Derry after giving away so much. Mayo will hit the Tipp defence with heavy fire, especially early on, in an attempt to set the agenda. If they succeed, Tipp will be hard-pushed to contain them.

Recall

Mayo supporters recall with a sense of apprehension the 2004 semi-final when plucky outsiders Fermanagh came very close to beating the Connacht champions.

Mayo eventually edged to victory by two points in a replay, with then-manager John Maughan conceding that they were lucky over the two days.

Charlie Mulgrew, who managed Fermanagh in that season of high adventure, said this week that there was no reason Tipperary could not make life just as difficult for Mayo tomorrow.

"It's important that they concentrate on trying to repeat what they've been doing so well. Ignore the occasion and play the game," he said.

It's a policy that has served Tipperary well, except in the Munster final where Kerry won by eight points. Their problem now is that Mayo are on the same level as Kerry, whereas Tipp's other victims were not.

Tipp will come closer tomorrow than they did against Kerry but it still looks highly probable that Mayo will book a place in the final for the third time in five seasons.

Irish Independent

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