Mayo this morning find themselves having chugged their way to an All-Ireland final when they’ve reached their destination so many times before with a purr under their bonnet only to later require roadside assistance.
Maybe this is the year when that trend is reversed but on the basis of this, their most patchy victory yet this summer, it appears unlikely. What shouldn’t be lost is how good Tipperary were at times. For a team in their first All-Ireland semi-final, the stage-fright appeared to be all Mayo’s. But when it came to explosive power, Tipperary were lacking.
Goals had been so key to Tipperary’s run to this stage and yesterday they were deprived of them although they had a couple of sniffs. Possibly deterred by Barry Moran’s presence at the edge of the square, they refrained from bombarding that area until the second half when Moran at last looked useful in the role handed to him.
Mayo’s brace couldn’t have been more different. Keith Higgins was the initiator, the catalyst and the provider for the first. He followed up his quick exchange with Aidan O’Shea with a driving run through the middle and despite being pushed to the left had the coolness to pick out Jason Doherty who slotted the ball to the net.
That 27th minute score turned out to be an equaliser for a Mayo side that had looked out of sorts in the opening stages. Even with Robbie Kiely black carded in the ninth minute, they were losing too many individual battles. By the 15th minute, Lee Keegan had twice fouled Michael Quinlivan for converted Tipperary frees.
Trailing 0-6 to 0-3, Mayo’s only score from play came with Andy Moran’s opener in the third minute but he was on the mark for a second time when they added four points off the back of Doherty’s goal. Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin, who fired just over the bar, and Lee Keegan also added scores and Mayo had completed a seven-point turnaround in the space of five minutes.
Conor Sweeney broke that pattern but then Mayo added three more, Moran splitting the posts either side of an Aidan O’Shea effort, and at 1-10 to 0-7 going into the break it appeared any hopes of Tipperary staging a shock had petered away.
“I’ll be honest,” reviewed Liam Kearns, “they should have had some more scores in the first half when they were on top. They missed a couple of scores and I thought that they probably should have got a little bit more in that period of dominance.”
But they didn’t and despite Diarmuid O’Connor cancelling out an early second half free by Kevin O’Halloran Tipperary were the dominant team for the next 20 minutes. Jimmy Feehan had a half-chance of finding the net in the 39th minute but was muscled out of it by the Mayo cover although Tipperary found points via a gorgeous Bill Maher strike followed by Quinlivan punishing another foul on him from Keegan, which earned the Mayo defender a yellow card.
Before Conor O’Shea showed his soccer skills later in the game, Josh Keane did in the 45th minute but couldn’t do enough. At the other end, Cillian O’Connor was inexplicably kicking short from relatively close range as Mayo’s barren spell grew.
Another Quinlivan free in the 48th minute made it a two-point game and Mayo’s predicament was further underlined when a relatively easy scoring chance from a free was spurned for the sake of a goal chance, Andy Moran’s shot well covered by Evan Comerford. A point at that time would have ended a 17-minute spell without a score for Mayo. They did break their duck two minutes later as Colm Boyle shot from distance but the lack of leadership for that free was obvious.
Further out the field, Aidan O’Shea was at least illustrating guidance in keeping hold of the ball and using it sensibly. Lady Luck then smiled on Mayo in the 64th minute when substitute Evan Regan’s mishit was followed in by O’Shea’s younger sibling Colm and he twisted on it to beat Comerford.
The nature of the score more than the value killed off Tipperary. “It probably took the wind out of whatever sails Tipperary were coming at us with,” said Stephen Rochford. “They got a good amount of frees so while they weren’t creating open chances it is something that we need to look at. I would probably say that the way they had come at us at the end of the third quarter going into the fourth quarter, the second goal was just a little bit more important, the way it finished.
“Jason’s was a fine goal in the first half and it probably just rubberstamped our authority in the game at that moment. Kevin McLoughlin also had a goal chance, it just allowed us reflect that dominance we had in the second quarter and that was important and crucially important the way that the second half played out.”
Tipperary’s woes grew with the dismissal of Maher in the 65th minute as Mayo succeeded in shutting up shop. The margin — five points — seemed harsh on Tipperary but Kearns wasn’t in the mood for sympathy: “They got a really lucky goal and we were close with a couple of other chances. I don’t know is it flattering. It is what it is, they won by five points. They’re comfortable, they’re in an All-Ireland final.”
At this stage, a win, any win will do Mayo now. They know only too well that performances can be so over-rated.
A. Moran (0-4); J. Doherty, C. O’Shea (1-0 each); C. O’Connor (0-3, frees); D. O’Connor (0-2); K. McLoughlin, L. Keegan, A. O’Shea, C. Boyle (0-1 each).
M. Quinlivan (0-7, frees); C. Sweeney (0-3, 1 free); K. O’Halloran (0-2, frees); P. Austin, B. Maher (0-1 each).
D. Clarke; B. Harrison, K. Higgins, L. Keegan; B. Moran; C. Boyle, P. Durcan; S. O’Shea, D. Vaughan; D. O’Connor, K. McLoughlin, J. Doherty; A. Moran, A. O’Shea, C. O’Connor (c).
T. Parsons for S. O’Shea (53); C. O’Shea for J. Doherty (58); E. Regan for A. Moran (63); C. Barrett for C. Boyle (67); A. Dillon for K. McLoughlin (69); C. Loftus for C. O’Connor (70+1); D. Vaughan (black, 70+6 - not replaced).
E. Comerford; A. Campbell, C. McDonald, C. O’Shaughnessy; B. Fox; B. Maher, R. Kiely, J. Feehan; P. Acheson (c), G. Hannigan; J. Keane, K. O’Halloran; C. Sweeney, P. Austin, M. Quinlivan.
S. Leahy for R. Kiely (black, 9); A. Moloney for S. Leahy (32); S. O’Connell for C. O’Shaughnessy (inj 56); I Fahey for K. O’Halloran (66); M. Dunne for J. Keane (70+2).
B. Maher (straight, 65).
D. Coldrick (Meath).