Tuesday 17 July 2018

Premier test will show if Mayo are on new journey

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Stephen Rochford had been allowed to choose Mayo's opponents from the eight possibilities in the Round 2 qualifier draw, Tipperary would have been his seventh choice in a field that also included Monaghan, Leitrim, Sligo, Clare, Carlow, Longford and Down.

Only Monaghan would have been behind Tipperary on the basis that it's best to avoid Division 1 opposition for as long as possible on the 'back door' circuit.

Mayo would have had few worries about Leitrim or Sligo, who lost to Roscommon and Galway respectively by a total of 35 points in the Connacht semi-finals.

With Clare and Longford coming off cumulative 41-point defeats by Kerry and Dublin, Mayo would feel confident of progressing fairly comfortably against either of them, even if Colm Collins' Banner crew tested them for a long time last year before eventually losing by seven points.

Demolition

Carlow's stock has risen considerably over the last year but is still some way behind Mayo's value while Donegal's demolition of Down suggests the Mourne men aren't in the most progressive of places.

That leaves Tipperary, whose current well-being is unknown, but who have previous pedigree. Their collapse against Cork remains one of the surprises of the season so far, one that left manager Liam Kearns totally puzzled.

"I don't have the answers for this performance. Why were we so poor? I just don't know. It's a serious setback, probably our worst in the three years we have been together. Our progress was pretty sustained up to his point but this is certainly a setback," he said after the 11-point defeat in Semple Stadium.

Kearns had raged - understandably so - against the Munster Council's decision to force Tipperary to play two games in a week (they beat Waterford in the quarter-final) but the schedule could not be put down as the only reason for the inept performance.

It was, in the very worst sense for Tipperary, 'one of those days' as they lurched from inertia to crisis to oblivion.

Based on that performance, Mayo have little to concern them as they head for the second fence on the route back to Croke Park but they know there is a lot more to Tipperary than that.

This, after all, is the squad that beat Cork and Galway two years ago and ran Mayo to five points in the All-Ireland semi-final, despite having centre-back, Robbie Kiely black-carded early on.

Last year, injury-hit Tipperary ran Cork to a point and beat Cavan before losing narrowly to Armagh, who later progressed to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Those two seasons are far more in keeping what's expected of Tipperary than the implosion against Cork four weeks ago.

The lengthy break between that game and their entry to the qualifiers has given have given them ample opportunity to re-focus for what is the most intriguing tie in the second round. Mayo will arrive in Thurles, having enjoyed an easy return to the All-Ireland race when Limerick played out a subservient role as accommodating hosts in the Gaelic Grounds.

Apart from providing Lee Keegan with an opportunity to ease himself back after injury, it served little purpose for Mayo. Certainly, in terms of indicating how mentally ready they are for another gruelling summer haul, it was utterly worthless.

Provided the defeat by Cork hasn't seriously deflated them, Tipperary will provide an altogether tougher test.

They will be encouraged by Limerick's three-goal haul against the Mayo defence, especially since their attack have proven finishers in Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney and Liam McGrath.

Finding a replacement at midfield for Tom Parsons, whose season is over, remains high on Rochford's agenda, with some suggesting in Mayo that he should deploy Diarmuid O'Connor there.

O'Connor was unavailable for the Limerick game after being sent off against Galway so it will be interesting to see where he is placed against Tipperary.

More important though will be mental attitude of the Mayo squad if Tipperary really put it up to them. They were fortunate to survive Round 2 in 2016 (v Fermanagh) and last year (v Derry) before cranking up power and progressing all the way to the final.

Irish Independent

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