When Tipperary and Mayo were pulled first in the qualifier draw my instinctive reaction was that Tipp were still paying a heavy price for taking an eye off the ball against Cork in the Munster semi-final, writes Declan Browne.
To say that disastrous night scuppered our plans would be a massive understatement. I expected us to be in a Munster final and to sit one win away from the Super 8s. Instead, we faced a long, perilous route with confidence undermined by a really poor performance.
In that light, Mayo looked the worst possible draw. And yet, as the match approaches, I’m starting to believe again.
The Tipp management have had plenty of time to right the wrongs of that night in Thurles and if they have then Tipp will be a match for anyone.
Conor Sweeney has had four extra weeks training to get him back up to his usual high standards. It was evident from early in the Cork game that he was hampered by injury.
It’s important too that Steven O’Brien has a game under his belt. When Steven returned to the panel everyone thought he would fit straight back in and produce the form he had shown before he tried the hurling. But it was never going to be that easy. He and Liam Casey were under severe pressure against Cork and for Tipp to have any chance of beating Mayo then these two lads must up the ante and gain a foothold in that area.
Also very disappointing against Cork was the lack of breaking ball Tipp won. That automatically piled extra pressure on an already struggling defence. On Saturday evening, both sides will have serious threats up front who can change games in the blink of an eye, so the midfield battle to supply that talent is where the game could be won or lost.
The 3-9 Cillian O’Connor kicked against Limerick will boost his confidence no end so if Mayo can feed him consistently, Tipp’s backs could be in for a tough night. To be so close, at just 26, to breaking Gooch’s all-time scoring record is an incredible achievement. I just hope he doesn’t add too much more to his tally on Saturday.
There is a lot of talk in Tipp about the All-Ireland semi-final two years ago and how close we came to causing one of the biggest upsets in GAA history. Yes it was a special day, even in defeat, but the fact that Tipp competed in every sector should inject plenty of belief into the players.
How would the game have played out had Robbie Kiely not received that much debated black card early on? Or had Tipp not conceded that goal from a very sloppy handpass. Or had Andy Moran not been afforded the freedom of Croke Park?
We will never know the answers but to have any chance tomorrow evening, Tipp must come out the right side of the decisions — their own and the officials’.
Mayo are a seriously battle-hardened outfit but doubt must creep into their minds about going the scenic route yet again. Tipperary need to ask the same questions of Mayo that they asked two years ago and see where that takes them.
More often than not Liam Kearns gets the match-ups right on the big day and he’ll have to do so again. Mayo struggled big-time against a very defensive Galway team, though they were not helped by Diarmuid O’Connor’s sending-off. They can expect more of the same tomorrow, with Tipp breaking fast at every opportunity. This system has served Tipp well over the last three years, with the main blip coming against Cork a few weeks ago. If they have regrouped sufficiently then they will pose serious problems for Mayo.
It would be remiss if I didn’t wish Tom Parsons the very best with his recovery from the horrific injury picked up against Galway. He has been an unsung hero for Mayo over several championship campaigns and probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I have had the pleasure of watching him play in Croke Park multiple times over the last few years and he was probably the best player on the field in last year’s All-Ireland final.
To see the reception he received in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick was heartwarming and will surely aid him in his recovery process.
I happened to snap the lateral and medial ligament in my left knee ten years ago and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Four months in a brace with no driving tests the patience so I can only imagine how Tom is feeling, especially when he has a lot more damage done. Only time will tell how much he will be missed if Mayo progress further through the qualifiers.
Neither team envisaged being in this position at this early stage so losing this game will have huge consequences for both sides.
For Mayo, it could possibly end this current squad’s chance of ever lifting Sam, which would be an absolute travesty. Players of the calibre of Lee Keegan, Andy Moran, Keith Higgins and Aidan O’Shea deserve the ultimate prize.
For Tipp, it would spell the end of the purple patch of progression made over the last three years where we have been spoiled with great days and memories.
Come seven o’clock tomorrow night the picture will be a lot clearer.
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