Tuesday 28 January 2020

Alan Brogan: I just don't trust Mayo..I'm sure I am not the only one

Mayo dejected after defeat to Dublin last year
Mayo dejected after defeat to Dublin last year
Conor Sweeney celebrates Tipperary’s famous quarter-final victory against Galway. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

In a week for Irish sport that began in farcical fashion, Thomas Barr went some way towards reigniting my belief that sport can make dreams come true.

Here was a man from Waterford within a whisker of a medal in a track event where Irish guys are not supposed to feature. It was also refreshing to see his interview with David Gillick; you could sense how proud Barr was to be representing his nation with such distinction. This was his dream being played out in reality. Barr's fourth place sets a new level for other Irish track athletes to match and, hopefully, surpass.

Read more: Catherina McKiernan: Barr was brilliant - but where have our long-distance runners gone?

Today, a group of men from Tipperary enter the dragon's den in Croke Park with a similar dream. Tipperary are not supposed to be in All-Ireland semi-finals, let alone have a chance of winning one.

I get the sense that this Tipperary team are not reading the script. We have been told over the last few years that to compete with the stronger teams you must adopt a watertight defensive structure, hit on the break and hope you grab enough scores to eke out a win.

Read more: David Brady: Underdogs Tipp can beat Mayo by harnessing momentum of Connacht and Leicester

Not Liam Kearns' team - they are playing with a freedom and an abandon that reminds me of Fermanagh when they faced Dublin in an All-Ireland quarter-final last year. The difference is that Fermanagh didn't really believe they could win. I think Tipperary do. The performance of a lifetime could land them in an All-Ireland final.

That said, they go into a game against a Mayo team that has had the chance to galvanise over a couple of qualifier matches. Sometimes when there is mud slung at a team, character questioned and reputations on the line, the bond in a group can tighten. While I don't believe the win over Tyrone was the greatest performance we have seen from this Mayo team, the result will bring them on immensely.

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Their backs were to the wall with the rifles cocked and they managed to overcome a team that had serious intentions on delivering Sam Maguire back to Tyrone.

Tiernan McCann of Tyrone in action against Kevin McLoughlin of Mayo. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Kevin McLoughlin in action against Tiernan McCann of Tyrone

Mayo are seasoned campaigners, a long way further down the road than Tipperary. Slowly but surely Stephen Rochford has started to leave his imprint on this group. Most notable over the championship has been the use of Kevin McLoughlin as a sweeper. Earlier in the championship there were question marks over his ability to play the role but results speak for themselves.

In last year's championship, Mayo conceded nine goals in five games; this year they have conceded three goals in five. Five of the goals in 2015 came in the two games against Dublin, but there is definitely evidence that minimising the concession of goals has been a key target for Rochford and his team.

During Tony McEntee's brief time in charge of St Brigid's in Dublin, a key part of his philosophy was to protect the goal at all costs. Tipperary have the inside forwards in Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney to test the Mayo rearguard, and a clean sheet for David Clarke will be a key target for Mayo today.

Up front, the reinstatement of Andy Moran has opened up a lot of space for others. Andy is a wonderful ball-winner, and his ability to retain possession and bring others into the game is second to none. Cillian O'Connor's return to form has coincided with Moran's recall and three points from play against Tyrone, seven in total, was an excellent return.

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Mayo will need Aidan O’Shea, here celebrating the win over Tyrone, at his best against Tipperary Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Aidan O'Shea

Mayo have strength in abundance in their forward line, and the winning of the game will come from here. Between Aidan O'Shea, Moran and the O'Connor brothers, they should have too much firepower for the Tipperary backs.

Read more: Mayo make one change for All-Ireland semi-final clash against Tipperary

But the strange thing is, I just don't trust Mayo. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks this. I'm sure people saw Dublin in the same light from 2002 to 2010. We'd march our way to an All-Ireland semi-final promising this was our year, only to come unstuck against Kerry or Tyrone waiting in the long grass.

I keep thinking that surely Mayo cannot lose this one. What an opportunity it is for them to reach an All-Ireland final without playing a Division 1 team. But there is a little nagging doubt in the back of my mind that tells me the weight of their failure to win an All-Ireland is a cross too heavy to bear.

They have a county behind them that's almost afraid to look, afraid to mention the All-Ireland for fear of visiting again that pain that they have suffered too often over the last six decades. They are silently wishing their team gets over this Tipperary outfit, knowing how much there is to lose. But at the end of the rainbow that seemed so far away when Galway beat them in the Connacht championship, there is much to gain.

Today will go a long way to telling us where the maturity of this Mayo team is at. There is no room for nervousness or edginess, no room for cavalier performances which I so often associate with Mayo. A steely, professional performance is what is required; the way to snuff out a lesser team's hopes is not to let them breathe from the off. A strong and solid Mayo start will take the wind from the Tipperary sails. After this, the likes of Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan attacking from deep will punch holes in the Tipperary rearguard.

If we see the professional performance Rochford will surely demand, Tipperary's dream run should come to an end, and the gulf in experience and class may lead to a comprehensive win for Mayo.

After that, the county will reach fever pitch with the prospect that maybe their time has come.

For Dublin to win the All-Ireland in 2011, we had to learn our fair share of harsh lessons along the way. Maybe Mayo have learned their fair share too. This evening, the Promised Land will be within touching distance. With my grandparents' roots in Foxford, I wouldn't begrudge them.

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