Mayo capable of a big show but talented bench can get Tyrone over line
As a Tyrone man, I'm confident that this bunch of players will come on a bundle for having the confidence of an Ulster title under their belt, yet I'm still wary of Mayo. There's a number of reasons for this:
1. Mayo have struggled to find their mojo this summer, but this has happened to teams before in the qualifiers and then, from seemingly nowhere, they have clicked in the big games. Take Kerry in 2009 - they struggled against Longford and would have been knocked out by Sligo in Tralee if Diarmuid Murphy hadn't saved a late David Kelly penalty, yet they went all the way. Tyrone did something similar the previous year when a Westmeath team down to 13 men could have turned them over in Healy Park. With his team two points down and less than two minutes to go, Dessie Dolan had a one-on-one with John Devine but dragged his shot wide. Two months later, Brian Dooher was raising the Sam Maguire on the Hogan Stand.
2. Some of Mayo's quality players are starting to show glimpses of form. It's not before time but there were flashes of his old self from Cillian O'Connor last Saturday. There's no doubt he has more in him. Donal Vaughan was also much more prominent against Westmeath and he has the capacity to drive them forward, while Aidan O'Shea was a wrecking ball coming through at pace with ball in hand. There are signs they are getting over the hump.
3. They will have no fear of Tyrone. The counties have met four times in the championship and it's 3-1 in favour of Mayo and their most recent meeting, in the semi-final three years ago, saw Tyrone turned over by six points.
4. Mayo possess the raw power and athleticism to cope with any team in the land. With players like the O'Sheas, Vaughan, Lee Keegan, and Andy Moran - as well as Barry Moran and Tom Parsons to bring on - they do not lack in the physical stakes and they won't be afraid to show it either.
5. The Tony McEntee factor. The Armagh man's role on the Mayo management has not been talked about much to date, but the Crossmaglen stalwart is a valuable asset for this particular game. He knows Tyrone football inside out and would have played against many of the players. His knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses will have been shared.
For all this, I have great faith in how Mickey Harte has developed this team and I'm convinced that playing in Croke Park will improve them as individuals and as a unit.
The key for them will be getting off to a good start. When they played with caution in the first halves of the drawn Cavan game and the Ulster final, they allowed he opposition to dictate the tempo. When they upped the ante after half-time and played with more intensity, they were able to play at a pace which suited their game. There's very few teams around that can match their speed on the break.
I also have doubts over Mayo's sweeper system, occupied by Kevin McLoughlin dropping back. Most teams do it with a double-sweeper and it's usually backs or midfielders who are asked to carry out the role. It's against the grain for a forward like McLoughlin to do it.
This is an Achilles' heel which can be exploited, especially as the game enters the home stretch when Mickey Harte, much like Jim Gavin, can unleash a talented bunch of subs keen to make an impression. I'll be surprised if Tyrone's legs don't carry them into a semi-final with Tipp.