Tuesday 20 February 2018

Close calls a reminder of dangers posed by underdogs

Conor Mortimer and Mayo survived a scare against Fermanagh back in 2004. Picture; Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Conor Mortimer and Mayo survived a scare against Fermanagh back in 2004. Picture; Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Mayo need reminding of the risks attached to playing long-odds outsiders in an All-Ireland semi-final they will find it quite readily from scary experiences 12 years ago.

In 2004, they survived two close calls against a Fermanagh team that was flying the county's colours in a semi-final for the first time.

"Scary - you can say that again. We were dead lucky to get past Fermanagh. We found it awful hard to shake them off," said John Maughan, who was in his second stint as Mayo manager at the time.

Now, Mayo are preparing for a clash with a county that hasn't been in the semi-final since 1935, reawakening memories of the 2004 frights against Fermanagh.

"Of all counties, Mayo know how tricky this type of game can be, especially coming after the high of the win over Tyrone. A lot of Mayo people thought Tyrone would win the quarter-final but the opposite is the case now.


"You'll hear comments like 'sure you'd have taken Tipperary as semi-final opponents at the start of the year' but I'm not sure what that means. Tipperary are in the semi-final on merit - there's no doubt about that.

"They may be outsiders but they can use that to their advantage and play with a real sense of freedom.

"Mayo have to get everything right and it won't be easy because inevitably the mindset is different when you're up against a team you're well-fancied to beat as opposed to Tyrone, who were Ulster champions. Mayo were really fired up for that one," said Maughan.

Tipperary, in contrast, are in familiar territory as underdogs, a role they filled against all opposition, except Waterford, in the Championship. They beat Cork, Derry and Galway, with their only loss coming against Kerry in the Munster final.

Charlie Mulgrew, who managed Fermanagh on their memorable qualifier run in 2004 before beating Ulster champions Armagh, believes it's a great opportunity for Tipperary to make a big statement.

"They know that everyone expects Mayo to win. It was the same with Fermanagh in 2004. We had beaten Meath, Cork, Donegal and Armagh but we were still given no chance against Mayo.

"It's a good way to go into a big game. You know you've done well but you're still treated as if you only got there by some fluke. Still, the most important thing of all is to get your own game right. Don't get dragged into the occasion or the venue. It may be an All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park but it's still only a game and a pitch.

"Tipperary showed against Galway that they can play really good football so now it's a question of doing the same again and see where it takes them," said Mulgrew.

After drawing with Mayo in 2004, Fermanagh led by a point late in the replay before points by Conor and Trevor Mortimer and Austin O'Malley edged Maughan's men into the final.

Fermanagh's cause was seriously weakened by the departure at half-time through injury of Barry Owens, who was later chosen at full-back on the All-Stars team.

"A few breaks went against us. In fairness, we had enjoyed some good fortune on the way to the semi-final but it ran out that day. You have to take what you get on that front, but from a Tipperary viewpoint, you'd be hoping they get their fair share of the lucky breaks," said Mulgrew.

If Maughan was on the worrying end of a massive effort by underdogs, he saw it from another perspective in 1992 when he led Clare into Croke Park for their first All-Ireland semi-final in 65 years.

They did well too, running a much more experienced Dublin team to five points.

"There was a carnival atmosphere in Clare after beating Kerry in the Munster final. We worked very hard for the semi-final and tried to harness the whole thing as a great adventure. It went well too but we didn't have the best of luck against Dublin. And of course they were much more experienced at that level.

"Still, the Clare lads showed they were well entitled to be in a semi-final and I'm sure Tipperary will do the same," said Maughan.

He regards Mayo's mental approach to Sunday's game as crucial to their prospects of reaching the final for the third time in five seasons.

"There's a big challenge there. There would have been a real hard edge to their mindset going into the Tyrone game. It can be hard to replicate that against a team everyone expects you to beat but Mayo will have to do it.

"They looked a lot like their old selves in the Tyrone game. Lee Keegan was 40 or 50pc better than he had been all season and the O'Sheas turned it on too.

"This is well within Mayo's grasp but they need to bring their A game. They're in an unusual situation for a Mayo team in that the other 31 counties want to see them beaten. It's nothing personal but when a new team get this far, everyone is behind them.

"I would expect Mayo's big-time experience to take them through but it will be a lot tougher than some people expect," said Maughan.

Mulgrew said that starting well is vital for a team like Tipperary, who are new to this level.

"If they can do that and stay in contention, their forwards will cause Mayo problems.

"The important thing for Tipperary is to express themselves in the same way as they have been doing for the past few months.

"That's what got them this far. You'd expect Mayo's experience to get them through but if they're in any way complacent, they will hit trouble against that Tipperary forward line," he said.

How the underdogs fared in the final four

2008: Having come through the qualifiers to reach the semi-final for the first time since 1945, Wexford lost to Tyrone by 0-23 to 1-14.

2004: Fermanagh's first appearance in the last four ended in a draw with Mayo (0-9 each) before losing the replay 0-13 to 1-8.

1994: Leitrim lost to Dublin by 3-15 to 1-9 after winning the Connacht title for the first time since 1927.

1992: Clare reached the semi-final as Munster champions for the first time since 1917, losing to Dublin by 3-14 to 2-12.

1975: Sligo lost to Kerry by 3-13 to 0-5 after winning the Connacht title for the first time in 47 years.

1968: Longford's first - and so far only - semi-final appearance ended in a two-point defeat (2-13 to 2-11) against Kerry.

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