Well, hands up all those of you who saw that coming.
I did have the idle thought ahead of throw-in today that, if we started well in today’s All-Ireland semi-final with Tipperary, we might just gut them but I still didn’t expect it to happen. But gut them we did and this game was well over as a contest before half-time.
Those thoughts were percolating in my mind on my morning perambulation down by a ghostly Croke Park earlier on today, the stadium shrouded in fog on a day when the chill in the air cut to the bone. The fog never lifted here in the capital all day and as the game went on it became harder and harder to see what was happening any time the play shifted over to the Cusack Stand side of the field.
We opened the scoring at HQ this afternoon. Ryan O’Donoghue was pulled back and Cillian O’Connor popped over the resultant 14-yard free.
Colm O’Riordan got the scoreboard moving for them soon after. We gave the ball away cheaply with a misplaced pass out the field and it was quickly worked into the Killea clubman who finished nicely.
Michael Quinlivan should have had the game’s opening goal in Tipp’s next attack. He fielded the ball over his head, leaving Lee Keegan for dead in the process, but one-on-one with David Clarke he picked the wrong option and tried to place his shot on the ‘keeper’s near side. David got down really well to bat it out for a ’45, which Comerford drove well wide.
Paddy Durcan saw his effort at a point come up short but Aidan got shunted in the back in the next play. Cillian made no mistake with the free.
But Tipperary then had a second goal chance as our hair-raising decision to go man-on-man with Tipp’s tall forwards inside backfired a second time in quick succession. Conor Sweeney caught this one but his shot was straight at David Clarke who saved it with ease.
We made them pay immediately, knifing downfield to bag the day’s opening goal. Aidan O’Shea thundered through the centre and with options left and right fed Tommy Conroy who lofted it into Cillian who palmed it to the net.
Tipperary, however, hit back in kind straight away. Brian Fox was under huge pressure as he shot for goal but his effort was a precise, low one that evaded David Clarke and was over the line before Diarmuid O’Connor connected with it in a despairing effort to prevent the score. This all happened in a flash but fair play to the umpires who correctly called the score.
Another attempt by us at the posts came up short – this one from Conor Loftus – but Ryan O’Donoghue, attempting to ferret out possession of the ball, was fouled and Cillian tapped over the free.
We now started to turn the screw. Three points in quick succession followed, the first off his left by Mattie Ruane, the second fisted over by Paddy Durcan after a nicely worked move and the third from a mark by Tommy Conroy. Tipperary had the final say before the first water break, though, as we ended a long period of possession without a score and they went down the field where Steven O’Brien fired over to cut the gap to four.
But we were starting to win the key battles all over the field and in the second quarter we proceeded to tear them asunder. Between the first water break and half-time we piled on 3-6, with Tipperary only posting three further points in response. The jig was well and truly up then for the Premier County.
Cillian was at the heart of this rout. After Kevin McLoughlin blasted over, having been fed brilliantly by Ryan O’Donoghue, Cillian pointed his fourth free after Tommy Conroy was pulled down. Tommy thumped over a great point soon after and then Cillian smashed home a second goal, shunting one of the Tipp backs out of the way with his hip before finishing emphatically.
Points from play from Cillian and Aidan followed in short order and then the roof fell in on Tipp as they conceded a third goal, again finished by Cillian. A crazy backpass attempt to the ‘keeper by Liam Casey was slightly undercooked and as Comerford advanced Cillian connected with it first to deflect it to the net.
Worse was to follow just before the break. We won a ’45 when Mattie’s shot was blocked down and Cillian’s placed kick hung in the air where it was met by brother Diarmuid who punched it to the net. Our fourth goal of the game left us a scarcely believable sixteen points in front at half-time.
All that was left for David Power’s shattered charges was to go back out and show a bit of fight in the second half. To their great credit, they did this and more, bagging two goals into the Davin end and winning the half on the scoreboard.
From our point of view, the second half would have been a bit of a worry. As the fog thickened at Croke Park, the fluidity we’d shown in the first half disappeared from view too. So much so that much of the second half action occurred in our half of the field.
We played the first ten minutes after the break with fourteen players, as Lee Keegan was ordered off on a black, dragging down Quinlivan before he got the chance to pull the trigger.
Our opening score of the half came from Tommy Conroy. Almost invisible in the descending fog, Tommy drove forward out on the right before firing over.
An end-to-end move ended with Conor Loftus coming onto the ball at pace and belting it over. We made our first switch then, Jordan Flynn coming on for Diarmuid.
Just after that Cillian got his fourth goal of the game. The long ball in over the cover by Kevin McLoughlin was a pinpoint one, Cillian gathering and turning to fire it past a startled Comerford. We were now twenty points to the good.
We cut the tempo several notches from there to the finish, content, or so it seemed, that we’d done enough and more to secure our fifth All-Ireland final appearance in ten years.
Tipp, by contrast, appeared determined to put a kinder gloss on the scoreboard and this they managed to do, scoring 2-5 compared to the further five points we added before David Gough blew the full-time whistle.
It’s hard to know what to make of our performance from then to the finish. With visibility fading all the time as the fog thickened at Croke Park and repeated switches being made to both teams, the contest became more than a little ragged.
What will worry James Horan, though, was the meltdown in our restarts – Tipp’s second goal came directly from one of our kickouts – and the way we were increasingly overwhelmed around the middle.
None of this mattered to the result, of course, as there was no way Tipperary were ever going to reel back in a twenty-point deficit. They did, though, cut the gap to a far more respectable thirteen points at the finish.
That’s not the only worry James will have ahead of the final in two week’s time. Both Chris Barrett and Eoghan McLaughlin limped from the field with knocks in the second half today and there will obviously be some concern about their availability for the decider.
But the wayward performance after the break today shouldn’t – like the fog – shroud what was by any measure a devastating opening half from the lads. Cillian is in the form of his life this year and a 4-9 personal return in an All-Ireland semi-final is utterly off the scale.
So, in this strangest of years, it’s almost inevitable that we’ve once more forced our way onto the stage for an All-Ireland final like no other. We’ll be complete underdogs against the all-conquering Dubs in two week’s time but I doubt that will bother James Horan or his team tonight.
I’ve always maintained that I’d run the risk of our losing the final every year as long as we were in it, as simply being there affords us the chance of claiming the big prize next time. Well, once again we’re back in the final and once again the greatest team ever to play Gaelic football stands between us and Sam.
Only this time it’s turkey and Sam. Get ready to pull up to the table. Up Mayo.
Mayo: David Clarke; Oisín Mullin, Chris Barrett, Lee Keegan; Paddy Durcan (0-1), Stephen Coen, Eoghan McLaughlin; Conor Loftus (0-1), Mattie Ruane (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin (0-1), Ryan O’Donoghue, Diarmuid O’Connor (1-0); Tommy Conroy (0-4, one mark), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), Cillian O’Connor (4-9, five frees). Subs: Jordan Flynn for Diarmuid O’Connor, Padraig O’Hora for Barrett, Michael Plunkett for McLaughlin, Tom Parsons for O’Donoghue, Darren Coen (0-2) for Cillian O’Connor.
Who was our MOTM against Tipperary? Pick your top three performers
- Cillian O'Connor (38%, 1,319 Votes)
- Tommy Conroy (18%, 646 Votes)
- David Clarke (13%, 458 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (6%, 223 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (6%, 209 Votes)
- Eoghan McLaughlin (4%, 131 Votes)
- Ryan O'Donoghue (3%, 93 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (2%, 74 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 69 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 49 Votes)
- Mattie Ruane (1%, 44 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (1%, 35 Votes)
- Oisin Mullin (1%, 34 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 31 Votes)
- Darren Coen (1%, 19 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (1%, 18 Votes)
- Jordan Flynn (0%, 17 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (0%, 11 Votes)
- Padraig O'Hora (0%, 11 Votes)
- Michael Plunkett (0%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,770