Cillian O’Connor leads the charge as Mayo blow Tipperary away

Full forward scored 4-9 in ruthless performance to set up showdown with Dublin

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor scores their fifth goal past goalkeeper Evan Comerford of Tipperary during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor scores their fifth goal past goalkeeper Evan Comerford of Tipperary during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Mayo 5-20 Tipperary 3-13

In an affecting moment at the end of the match, the Tipperary footballers went to pay their respects to the dead of Bloody Sunday, including one of their own in the very corner where Michael Hogan was shot 100 years ago.

Captain, Conor Sweeney laid a wreath and they stood in silence at the end of a year that has been overlaid with history for them but the remarkable centenary symmetry hadn’t quite extended to their reaching a re-run of the 1920 final against Dublin.

It will be Connacht champions Mayo who take on that challenge in just under a fortnight having progressed to this year’s All-Ireland final with a powerful display that resulted in a record score for Cillian O’Connor, who set a new individual mark in championship football of 4-9, 4-3 from play.

That surpassed Fermanagh’s Rory Gallagher’s 3-9 against Monaghan 18 years ago and John Joyce, the Dublin forward who scored 5-3 against Longford in 1960 – and, indeed, O’Connor’s own 3-9 when playing Limerick in the qualifiers two years ago.

The records didn’t stop there. Mayo’s total was the biggest ever scored in an All-Ireland semi-final and Tipperary’s equalled the record for a losing semi-finalist. 

It was a powerful statement by James Horan’s team and will revive the most persistent rivalry in the era of Dublin domination – a fourth All-Ireland final between the counties in the last eight years.

Long questioned for their inability to convert sufficient chances, Mayo on this occasion were lethally efficient and it wasn’t until the 59th minute that captain Aidan O’Shea kicked their first wide although Paddy Durcan had dropped three chances short earlier in the match.

Mayo’s David Clarke and Oisín Mullin contest a high ball with Steven O’Brien of Tipperary. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Mayo’s David Clarke and Oisín Mullin contest a high ball with Steven O’Brien of Tipperary. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

O’Connor’s haul was almost enough to win the match on its own but his young forward colleague, corner forward Tommy Conroy, scored 0-4 in a lively display that confirmed his ability to supply the team with something new in attack.

Overall though, the match spoke of the difference between a side accustomed to playing top-flight opponents and another without that experience and consequently not familiar with those nanoseconds you don’t have on the ball or in defence.

On a December evening shrouded in freezing fog, Tipperary started brightly but critically failed to make anything of early chances for goals. In the fourth minute, Michael Quinlivan tried to sidestep David Clarke but the goalkeeper got a block for a 45, which wasn’t converted.

The same player lofted an inviting ball into Conor Sweeney, who caught superbly but saw his shot saved again by Clarke. It became a recurrent feature and in probably the most worrying aspect of the afternoon for Horan, his team gave up – without exaggeration – 10 clear goal chances, three of which were scored with the others missed or saved by last-ditch interventions. Not all of them within the rules either as Lee Keegan got the sin-bin for pulling down Quinlivan early in the second half.

Brian Fox did take his opportunity in the 10th minute, managing to squeeze the ball just over the line in front of the empty Hill but the sense of squandered chances coming back to haunt them was strong and not long being realised.

That wasn’t the limit of Tipperary’s frustration. Their restarts functioned well, at 90 per cent, and in the middle they frequently won Mayo ball as well. The problem – and the pressure exerted by Mayo’s crowded middle third was exemplary – came in the inability to hold onto possession and they conceded nearly twice as many turnovers as the winners did.

Scores in the first half came like death by, if not 1000, then several cuts. No sooner had Tipperary apparently steadied than another goal would fly in or a point might be smartly taken. By half-time and trailing 1-5 to 4-12, they had conceded 3-5 to turnover ball. O’Connor’s hat-trick was up by 30 minutes: a clinical finish to a move by O’Shea and Conroy in the ninth minute, an aggressive run through the defence on 25 and, five minutes later, a calamitous kicked pass across the Tipperary goal by Liam Casey hung there nicely for an opportunistic fist.

Even the fourth goal kept it in the family as Diarmuid O’Connor, loitering with undetected intent, managed to step into the square as his brother’s 45 dropped invitingly in injury-time before the interval.

O’Connor scores his second goal of the game. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
O’Connor scores his second goal of the game. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Tipp refused to give in after the break and made plenty of chances. Colin O’Riordan worked hard on his temporary return to Croke Park from the AFL and kicked two nice points. Replacement Paudie Feehan had carved open the Mayo defence for the second goal in the 55th minute.

Sweeney was the most dogged of the resistors, showing flawless composure on his frees and getting a well-taken goal at the very end. David Power can be proud of his team’s resilience and a historic Munster title this year but he will know that they need to compete at a higher level than Division Three.

There will be plenty for Mayo to remedy in the next 13 days. Their man-to-man marking and crowding around centrefield left them very open when possession was lost and Horan will be aware that the tariff in the final would be a lot higher.

At the end of a fraught weekend for the GAA with champions Dublin having progressed to the final intent on extending their consecutive All-Ireland record to six and in the process raising questions about an existential domination of the championship, it mightn’t have been welcome to see another one-sided semi-final but there will be relief that the final pairing offers the prospect of a competitive climax to this strangest of championships.

Mayo: 1. David Clarke; 2. Oisín Mullin, 3. Chris Barrett, 4. Lee Keegan; 5. Patrick Durcan (0-1), 6. Stephen Coen, 7. Eoghan McLaughlin; 8. Conor Loftus (0-1), 9. Matthew Ruane (0-1); 12. Diarmuid O’Connor (1-0), 11. Ryan O’Donoghue, 10. Kevin McLoughlin (0-1); 13. Tommy Conroy (0-4, 0-1 mark), 14. Aidan O’Shea (capt; 0-1), 15. Cillian O’Connor (4-9, 0-6 frees).

Subs: 17. Pádraig O’Hora for Barrett (47 mins), 22. Jordan Flynn for D O’Connor (43 mins), 18. Michael Plunkett for McLaughlin (53 mins), 21. Tom Parsons for O’Donoghue (55mins), 25. Darren Coen (0-2) for C O’Connor (66 mins).

Tipperary: 1. Evan Comerford; 4. Colm O’Shaughnessy, 3. Jimmy Feehan, 2. Alan Campbell; 5. Bill Maher, 6.Kevin Fahey (0-1), 7. Robbie Kiely; 8. Steven O’Brien (0-1), 9. Liam Casey; 10. Colin O’Riordan (0-2), 12. Conal Kennedy, 13. Brian Fox (1-0); 15. Colman Kennedy, 11. Michael Quinlivan (1-0), 14. Conor Sweeney (capt; 1-9, 0-8 frees).

Subs: 19. Emmet Moloney for Casey (half-time), 23. Philip Austin for Fox (half-time), 21. Paudie Feehan (1-0) for Kiely (53 mins), 18. Dáire Brennan for J Feehan (56 mins), 26. Liam Boland for Colman Kennedy (56 mins).

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

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