Mayo have the necessary resources to defeat Tyrone and return to the final stage
Tyrone’s defensive focus will distract from the need to put up a challenging score
Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor celebrates scoring his second goal against Donegal. He has developed into one of the best finishers in the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Mayo come into this match with one of the strongest motivations, having lost last year’s All-Ireland final. It’s a powerful focus for mature minds and one of the differences between Mayo this year and 12 months ago.
It’s a tribute to James Horan that he was clear-minded enough after losing an All-Ireland final to sit down and make the right long-term calls to improve the team’s chances for this championship.
On the field they have got better. Donie Buckley as a new voice on the training ground is a significant reason for this because the team’s style of play has improved and has a pace and style that wasn’t there in 2012 in terms of kicking, passing and movement.
The only player I felt was a bit short in these areas in the quarter-final was Andy Moran, who’s still catching up after injury with match practice at the highest level.
Their defending has been very impressive with full backs marking much tighter, winning 50-50 balls and bursting out in front of their opponents. Forwards are putting in a huge effort tackling, maybe fouling at times, but contesting possession nearly all of the time.
Tyrone haven’t been at that level this year. During the league I felt that they were a top-four team and they’ve backed that up but this looks a step too far.
Mickey Harte’s taken them through the qualifiers’ route, which provides an excellent learning curve and is an excellent way of building spirit. They will be difficult to break down.
But I suspect they will also be so preoccupied with defensive strategy, in particular limiting goal opportunities that their attacking game could suffer. They are too reliant on Seán Cavanagh at midfield, registering big scores from play, which is a huge ask for a midfielder at this level of championship.
They’ll also be looking to Stephen O’Neill to produce his best – or at least, better – form, which we haven’t seen so far. But regaining form in an All-Ireland semi-final is not easy.
This will be quite a tactical battle because Mickey Harte has to set up to stop Mayo getting into their stride. But dropping half forwards back could backfire because the Mayo half backs are such a threat getting forward. Then the big question for Mayo is how to break down Tyrone if their defensive game is in good shape.
For all that veteran players like Conor Gormley and Joe McMahon don’t have pace they’re so experienced they rarely get isolated at the back and with excellent players like Conor Clarke and Peter Harte in the centre of the defence and the Donnellys dropping back it won’t be easy to pull Tyrone apart.