Mayo edge dogged Tipperary to book first All-Ireland final place since 2013
Mayo 2-13 Tipperary 0-14
IT may have been the widely predicted outcome, but don't be fooled by Mayo's five-point winning margin in today's All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park.
The scoreboard is a fallacy and on another day, not alone might it have been a whole lot closer but Tipperary footballers might even by celebrating their first All-Ireland senior final appearance since the 1920 championship.
It was not to be, though, and there are two primary reasons. The first was a shell-burst of Mayo scores - 1-7 in response to a sole Conor Sweeney point - from the 26th minute until the half-time bell, which sounded with the Connacht men holding a scarcely believable 1-10 to 0-7 lead.
The second reason for Mayo's victory - watched by an audience of 53,212 - was, essentially, a fluke goal in the 64th minute. Evan Regan was in the act of shooting for a point when he slipped and his resultant miskick mutated into a perfect through pass for sub Conor O'Shea, whose first-time shot arrowed past Evan Comerford and nestled in the left corner of the Hill 16 net.
That left Mayo six clear again, and Tipp's cause was scarcely helped by a red card for Bill Maher soon after. Mayo also finished with 14 men, Donal Vaughan picking up a black card at the death after his team had used all six subs; but by then his county was safely heading for its first senior final since 2013.
Stephen Rochford's men will meet either Dublin or Kerry on September 18. It's safe to assume, on this utterly unconvincing evidence, that they will start as underdogs.
Not alone did they only score 1-3 in the second half, they only managed three points in the first 25 minutes.
When Conor Sweeney drove past Brendan Harrison for his first point, an ebullient Tipperary led by double scores – 0-6 to 0-3 – and Mayo looked in trouble.
Rochford had already made an unusual tactical call before throw-in, parachuting Barry Moran into his starting 15 but asking the towering Castlebar man to play a dual role – contesting kickouts but then moving back to act as sweeper in front of his own goal.
Kevin McLoughlin, who appeared to have grown into the sweeper role, was instead deployed as an orthodox half-forward.
And yet the changes, initially at least, didn't exactly prevent Tipp from boring holes in Mayo's quaking rearguard. The first such foray led to a fisted equalising point from Philip Austin, all coming from Peter Acheson's soaring kickout catch and Bill Maher's burst through the middle.
They then edged ahead when Michael Quinlivan pointed his own free after being fouled by his shadow, Lee Keegan.
Soon after, though, came a pivotal setback for Tipp, their centre-back lynchpin Robbie Kiely banished for a ninth minute black card after upending Jason Doherty. Cillian O'Connor nailed the resultant free, but Mayo then proceeded to play second fiddle for the next 15 minutes.
The turning came stemmed from a Tipp turnover around midfield, allowing Keith Higgins to play a one-two with Aidan O'Shea and then drive hard at the heart of the opposing defence. His well-timed offload found Doherty, who cut back onto his right foot to plant a low shot to the net.
Suddenly, Mayo were buzzing with confidence and the scores flowed. Their decorated veteran, Andy Moran, led the onslaught and already had four points from play to his name by the interval. Their 1-7 salvo should really have read 2-6, McLoughlin firing a presentable goal chance over.
Six adrift, was this the end of the fairytale road for Tipp? Not at all. Instead, they landed five of the first six points after the break as Mayo again retreated into their nervous shell.
Mayo found themselves hanging onto a two-point lead and it could have been closer still, as Tipp fired over three quick wides during their spell of third quarter dominance.
Andy Moran almost settled Mayo nerves when played in for a goal chance by the subdued Cillian O'Connor, but Comerford pulled off a smart save. The favourites had gone 18 minutes without a score before Colm Boyle ended the drought, but it still required O'Shea's goal to kill the contest.
SCORERS - Mayo: A Moran 0-4, J Doherty, C O'Shea 1-0 each, C O'Connor 0-3f, D O'Connor 0-2, K McLoughlin, L Keegan, A O'Shea, C Boyle 0-1 each. Tipperary: M Quinlivan 0-7f, C Sweeney 0-3 (1f), K O'Halloran 0-2 (1f), P Austin, B Maher 0-1 each.
MAYO: D Clarke; L Keegan, B Harrison, K Higgins; D Vaughan, C Boyle, P Durcan; S O'Shea, B Moran; D O'Connor, A O'Shea, K McLoughlin; J Doherty, A Moran, C O'Connor. Subs: T Parsons for S O'Shea (53), C O'Shea for Doherty (58), E Regan for A Moran (63), C Barrett for Boyle (67), A Dillon for McLoughlin (69), C Loftus for C O'Connor (71),
TIPPERARY: E Comerford; A Campbell, C O'Shaughnessy, C McDonald; B Maher, R Kiely, J Feehan; P Acheson, G Hannigan; J Keane, K O'Halloran, B Fox; P Austin, C Sweeney, M Quinlivan. Subs: S Leahy for Kiely (black card 10), A Moloney for Leahy (32), S O'Connell for O'Shaughnessy (inj 56), I Fahey for O'Halloran (66), M Dunne for Keane (72).
REF: D Coldrick (Meath).