GAA Football

What price for your provincial fairytale now?

Cillian O'Connor blazes the second of his four goals beneath Evan Comerford. Picture by Sportsfile
Cahair O'Kane at Croke Park

All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Mayo 5-20 Tipperary 3-13

WHAT price for your fairytale? That will be two All-Ireland semi-finals and a weekend of your life, please.

Perhaps the most alarming thing about two days of football that ended with a joint 28-point margin of victory for Dublin and Mayo was that Cavan and Tipperary brought just about all they had to the table.

Their jaw-dropping provincial successes came home to roost on the All-Ireland series as their lack of exposure to top-end football came back with all the bite of the freezing fog that sat down on the Croke Park pitch after 10 minutes yesterday.

Tipperary scored three goals and could have had three times as many. Yet they lost by 13 points.

Cavan had thrown everything they had at it, put in some brilliant individual displays, and lost by 15.

If Michael Quinlivan had taken the extra touch around David Clarke or Conor Sweeney made the right connection with chances in the first five minutes, we might have had a different shape of a game here.

Instead they were punished at the other end as Cillian O’Connor palmed home the first of his four goals, the beginnings of a remarkable, record-breaking tally of 4-9. No player has ever hit such a score in championship football. He only lost by a point to Tipperary himself.

This was a day of crazy numbers. No team in history had ever hit 5-20 in an All-Ireland semi-final, with Mayo putting to rest the ghouls of their 1993 semi-final loss in which Cork scored the previous record of 5-15.

No losing team had ever hit more in a semi-final than Tipperary’s 3-13, a joint record with the 4-10 Offaly hit in 1980 in a mad game with Kerry that’s now displaced as the highest scoring semi of all time.

There could have been far, far more too. Tipperary had ten goal chances. They saw more of the whites of David Clarke’s eyes than his own wife would. His save from Quinlivan early on was superb. Other times Tipp made a hero of him, three times they beat him and on others they didn’t hit the target at all.

Focus will naturally fall on that end and if so, it will not reflect too badly on Clarke.

But Dublin will have zoomed in on Mayo’s kickout struggles. Sam Maguire will not be stopping in Foxford for an exorcism if the final is a repeat of this 65 per cent return on their own restarts.

Tipperary went after it, particularly in the second half, and there were times when Clarke’s decision-making was the biggest problem. At one point he had two men outside him when he tried an ambitious 60-yard ball to Diarmuid O’Connor, who was outnumbered 4v1 by the time it reached him.

The fact that Tipperary had 11 goal chances would not be so significant if it weren’t for the fact so many of them came off Mayo kickouts.

It all makes the decision to start Rob Hennelly in goals for that replay with Dublin four years ago all the more understandable. At the risk of sounding demented, would James Horan seriously consider the same move for which Stephen Rochford was pilloried?

There is enough about Mayo’s attacking game to win an All-Ireland. And in their defensive issues stealing much of the focus, they may even be quietly pleased.

Eoghan McLoughlin has been the find of the year, his pace from a half-back line also containing Patrick Durcan giving Mayo one of the most frightening platforms imaginable.

They played Aidan O’Shea inside again but operated very little off him. What they did was largely down the sides, barring one long ball that he got in behind Jimmy Feehan on. Had it been on his left foot rather than his right, he wouldn’t have been fisting it over the bar.

The first ten minutes of the game had such promise about them, although 11 turnovers shared by the sides in that spell indicated that it was all stemming from inefficiency. Tipperary should have had three goals to Mayo’s one, but they had to settle for one apiece.

Mayo weren’t dealing at all well with the long ball, particularly towards the outstanding Conor Sweeney, but they did drop Kevin McLoughlin a bit deeper for a while and the ball reaching the inside line started to dry up on David Power’s side.

Aidan O’Shea’s turnover on Kevin Fahey led to the first Mayo goal, and he had the intermediary hands between Eoghan McLaughlin and O’Connor for the second on 25 minutes.

2-9 to 1-3 up, no serious All-Ireland contender was going to lose from there, and you could sense it in the deflated last 10 minutes of the half.

Liam Casey’s backpass to Evan Comerford was sloppy but still a 60-40 ball for the ‘keeper, who hesitated when Cillian O’Connor didn’t. It completed the fourth championship hat-trick of his career, after London, Donegal (both 2013) and Limerick (2018).

He accidentally supplied his brother Diarmuid, who got away with the most blatant of square balls to palm home a fourth goal right on half-time, making it 4-12 to 1-5.
It is hard to analyse the second half too seriously in the sense of Mayo stepping off the gas, although the way in which their midfield was completely over-run and how it led to their defence being overwhelmed will definitely concern James Horan.

Lee Keegan taking a black card and Eoghan McLaughlin making an equally cynical foul prevented early goals, but the leak kept on and the plumber’s phone was straight to voicemail.

Quinlivan, Bill Maher, Philip Austin, Steven O’Brien, and Liam Boland all missed chances, while Paudie Feehan and Sweeney took theirs. If not a different complexion on what was still a 13-point defeat, the 3-13 tally at least gave a truer sense of how their attacking game troubled Mayo.
They are a better attacking unit than at any time in the recent past. They have a far, far deeper squad, one that will match Dublin in an area that Mayo have always come off second best in.

Kerry left Croke Park after last year’s semi-final win over Tyrone with nobody giving them a prayer, and look how that almost turned out.

Optimism will lie on the floor while blind faith takes the bed for the next two weeks. That, and the absence of a crowd, plays into Mayo’s hands.

If we know anything about 2020, it’s to expect the unexpected.

D Clarke; O Mullin, C Barrett; L Keegan, P Durcan (0-1), S Coen, E McLaughlin; C Loftus, M Ruane (0-2); K McLoughlin (0-1), R O’Donoghue, D O’Connor (1-0); T Conroy (0-4, 0-1 mark), A O’Shea (0-1), C O’Connor (4-9, 0-6 frees)
Subs: J Flynn for D O’Connor (42), P O’Hora for Barrett (47), M Plunkett for E McLoughlin (54), T Parsons for O’Donoghue (55), D Coen (0-2) for C O’Connor (68)

Tipperary: E Comerford; A Campbell, J Feehin, C O’Shaughnessy; B Maher, K Fahey (0-1), R Kiely; S O’Brien (0-1), C O’Riordan (0-2); Colman Kennedy, L Casey, Conal Kennedy; B Fox (1-0), C Sweeney (1-9, 0-8 frees), M Quinlivan
Subs: P Austin for Fox (HT), E Moloney for Casey (HT), P Feehan (1-0) for Kiely (53), L Boland for Colman Kennedy (55), D Brennan for J Feehan (55)

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

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