Say what you want about the qualifiers but they give us days out to remember. Today was another one which, now that we’ve won it, we can savour but, like so many back door contests we’ve been involved in, the enjoyment only came after a period of stress – which lasted a good fifty minutes of today’s game – during which it looked like we might be in deep trouble. Ultimately, though, it was trouble we were able to handle and when we put the foot to the floor in the final quarter this evening Tipp simply had no answer.
We got the start we would definitely have been wishing for. Four points to no score up after around six minutes, it looked then like we might steamroll them.
Two Cillian frees – the first for a foul on Keith as he bore down on goal, then second a pull off the ball on Andy – got us going. Aidan O’Shea got our first from play, Stephen Coen withstanding a shuddering shoulder-charge to offload to Aidan who came around the back before shooting over. Seamus O’Shea bagged the fourth, collecting the ball from Chris Barrett in acres of space and clipping it over.
Tipperary finally settled when they bagged their opener from the restart, a neat point from play. They were well settled soon after, when Michael Quinlivan found the net following a truly horrendous mix-up in our back-line. The goal had eerily strong echoes of the one we conceded in the 2013 All-Ireland final. David Clarke and the man detailed to mark Quinlivan, Paddy Durcan (I know I said it was Ger Caff on the audio but it was Paddy) both contested the ball, leaving the Tipp full-forward the opportunity to flick it over both of them and into the net.
The score transformed the home team and from then till half-time they really let us have it, raiding forward rapidly at every opportunity. These forays came mainly down the right-hand flank and time after time they opened us up via this route.
Quinlivan had a chance for a second goal but David Clarke was equal to the shot, though the play was then called back for an advantage which Tipp pointed.
Just after that Seamus O’Shea, stooping to collect a misplaced pass, fell heavily and it was clear immediately that the big Breaffy man was in trouble. It was sickening to see another key midfield player of ours being ushered from the fray and word came through afterwards that he’d suffered a dislocated shoulder. That’s another heavy blow for us, as well as for Seamie himself.
Seamie’s departure saw Diarmuid O’Connor take the field and by half-time we found ourselves having to make a second enforced change. Colm Boyle got into a tangle with one of their players, which Maurice Deegan deemed to be a black card offence and so the Davitts man’s 100th appearance for the county ended prematurely.
We hadn’t time to replace him before the half-time whistle sounded – Cian Hanley came on for Boyler after the break – but when the break came we were two in arrears and looking in a bit of bother. The final point of the half came from Quinlivan from the tightest of angles, a shot which left the umpires undecided but Hawkeye declared it a Tá and so Tipp were 1-7 to 0-8 up as the teams retired to their dressing rooms for some much-needed respite.
Immediately on the resumption it was evident that we had upped the gas. The tackles were becoming fiercer, leading to a number of stirring turnovers, and soon we had the two-point deficit wiped out.
Our first point in the second half was a booming, morale-boosting strike from Jason Doherty – who was excellent today, especially in the second half, and picked up the MOTM award on Sky – and the second was a long-range free from Cillian.
We had chances then to turn the screw but two bad wides, from Chris Barrett and Evan Regan (on as a blood sub for Kevin McLoughlin), saw us fail to up the pressure on them.
Instead it was an increasingly confident and gutsy Premier County team that took the fight to us. Maintaining their hard-running counter-attacking game-plan, they hit us with three points on the spin to open a gap on us. The pick of these was the third one, the ball worked quickly down the field and knocked over after Chrissie had lost it in traffic out around the middle.
We responded with a lovely bit of quick hands and running ourselves, in a move that ended with James Durcan firing over. But was the goal on? Maybe.
At the other end, the contest now becoming ever more helter-skelter, both sides fumbled possession before McGrath claimed it and fired over to put Tipp three up once more. It looked then that they were beginning to claim a decisive toe-hold in this frantic contest.
But, all of a sudden, the game then turned on its head. James Durcan was probably aiming for a point with his weighted shot but it dipped at the last minute into the corner of the Tipp net. Out of nothing and, let’s be honest, against the run of play, we were level.
This was the opportunity we’d been waiting for. Tipp, suddenly no longer looking confident, were dazed and, sensing this, we went for them.
The last 25 minutes was, for us, a delight but for them it must have resembled a car crash. We literally bulldozed their challenge away completely, scoring 1-8 without reply in a dazzling spell to leave us rather handsome eight-point winners at the finish.
A Kevin McLoughlin floater – causing another earth-shattering roar to erupt in the Ardan O Riann – put us ahead for the first time since the sixth minute. This time, though, there would be no way back for the home team.
Jason Doherty belted over two absolute screamers to push us three clear. Then Paddy Durcan, whose day job was quelling Quinlivan, came raiding forward at – give or take – a million miles per hour, collected the pass and fired over.
Andy might have had a penalty – he was certainly fouled in the square as he got his shot away – but the ref let him play on and the ball went over.
The Tipp lads now started to cramp up and on those odd occasions when they got the ball they seemed bereft of ideas about what to do with it. Every time we got it, in contrast, we went for the throat.
Jason Doherty got pole-axed as he burst through – a straight red foul, all day long – but Maurice Deegan had to show us his incompetence at some point and giving nothing for this assault was, I guess, his way of doing this.
A long period of keep-ball for us then ensued before James Durcan – who else? – fired over. A Conor Loftus free and one from play deep in stoppage time closed out the win for us.
So, even though we struggled to contain Tipperary for a good fifty minutes today, that blistering finishing spell was more than good enough for us to win the day. The loss of Seamie – most likely for the rest of this championship run – will be keenly felt but we’re still standing and we’re back in the draw once more on Monday, with another qualifier hurdle facing us this day week.
This is how it is in the qualifiers, as we know full well from the last two years. Today’s often enthralling contest in a sun-kissed Semple Stadium on a perfect summer’s day has given us another memorable on the road adventure to add to the collection.
Mayo: David Clarke; Chris Barrett, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Colm Boyle, Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Seamus O’Shea (0-1), Lee Keegan (0-1); Kevin McLoughlin (0-3), Aidan O’Shea (0-1), James Durcan (1-2); Jason Doherty (0-3), Cillian O’Connor (0-5, frees), Andy Moran (0-1). Subs: Diarmuid O’Connor for Seamus O’Shea, Cian Hanley for Boyle (black card), Evan Regan for McLoughlin (blood), Eoin O’Donoghue for Barrett, Evan Regan for Cillian O’Connor, Conor Loftus (0-1, free) for Moran, Danny Kirby for Diarmuid O’Connor.
Man of the Match poll:
Who was our MOTM against Tipperary? Pick your top three performers.
- Jason Doherty (27%, 382 Votes)
- James Durcan (17%, 235 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (15%, 214 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (12%, 175 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (8%, 110 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (5%, 77 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (5%, 70 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 21 Votes)
- Keith Higgins (1%, 21 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (1%, 16 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 16 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (1%, 12 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (1%, 10 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (1%, 10 Votes)
- Eoin O'Donoghue (1%, 9 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 8 Votes)
- Cian Hanley (1%, 8 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 6 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (0%, 4 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 3 Votes)
- Evan Regan (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 896