The journey is over for now, but if Liam Kearns and his men were told at the start of this difficult year that they would play in front of almost 54,000 people in Croke Park on All-Ireland semi-final day, they would have accepted that scenario with open arms.
Pride was the overriding emotion, then, at the final whistle, despite the disappointment. But as I mulled over this one, stuck in matchday traffic out of Druncondra, I was already coming round to the view that the players will see this as one that got away.
I had commented all week that Tipp needed a solid opening quarter to have any chance of winning. They had that, but they could have profited much more from that bright start were it not for some poor wides from very scoreable positions.
They still found themselves in a comfortable position at six points to three up, and seemed in control, especially when you factor in Robbie Kiely’s black card, which looked an extremely harsh decision, the first of many unfavourable ones Tipp suffered at the hands of referee David Coldrick.
Kiely’s removal after a mere eight minutes was pivotal to the outcome of the game as he has been an absolute colossus at centre-back this year. The Tipp management team seemed at a loss as how to fill the void.
That incident was one of many over the course of this year’s championship that drive home the need for the game’s administrators to move with the times and introduce a TMO. We can learn so much from how rugby is referreed. Take the controversial decisions out of the referee’s hands and rid the game of the inconsistency in the implementation and interpretation of the rules. Surely players like Robbie Kiely deserve this?
The consistent cynical fouling by Lee Keegan on Michael Quinlivan in the opening ten minutes of the game went unpunished by Coldrick, illustrating that on the big day, in the big games, the top teams seem to be on the right side of these calls and not the lowly Division 3 or 4 sides.
We have seen the positive influence that Hawkeye has had since its introduction and it is time to embrace further change. Too much of our focus after games is on game-changing decisions. Bill Maher was another to suffer yesterday.
Still, Tipp had mended and made-do and coped without Kiely. And then came that goal….
Suddenly, the game was level and the wind completely taken out of Tipp’s sails. Similar to Galway’s goal in the hurling semi-final, a blind handpass led to an interception and the ball quickly ended up in the back of the Tipp net. The hole left by Kiely’s dismissal had been found.
Mayo brought a very aggressive approach, very similar to what Kerry did in the Munster Final, which seemed to unsettle Tipp again in the 15 minutes before half-time, during which Mayo were completely dominant. In Andy Moran up front, they had a real match winner with the knowhow and experience that is so vital in these big games.
He had the measure of young Colm O’ Shaughnessy. Coming into this game, all expectations were probably on Cillian O’Connor to produce the match-winning turn in the Mayo attack, but it was the veteran who stole the show.
One must also admire the power and strength of Aidan O’Shea. He played a different role to what I expected of him today but nevertheless was highly effective. Tipp couldn’t cope with him driving through the centre, drawing the defender and laying off the ball to set up scores. He will be the key to Mayo’s chances of finally lifting Sam Maguire this year.
But there are issues they must address. In terms of possession, Tipp had the upper hand but the underdogs’ unwillingness to kick for scores when close to goal cost them dearly. Kerry or Dublin will not be found wanting in this department.
Mayo only managed to rack up a goal and three points in the entire second half, going for a period of almost 18 minutes without a score. That will concern Stephen Rochford and his men. When the second goal came, it was so fortunate, Evan Regan slipping while shooting for point and the ball somehow finding its way into the path of Conor O’Shea who finished with aplomb.
It’s been a rollercoaster year for Tipp. The forwards have led the way with dazzling perfomances throughout the season. However, on the biggest of stages, it was our defenders who shone. Ciaran McDonald was excellent in curbing the influence of Cillian O’Connor. While young Jimmy Feehan and my clubmate Alan Campbell can be very proud of their input today.
The Tipp crowd too was large and loud, delivering commited vocal support all afternoon. I really never expected that large a following to travel. Another reason to be proud on a big day for the county’s football lovers.
Hopefull, this year will prove a massive stepping stone for what is to come. I can’t wait to see what the next step is for Tipp.
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