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Mayo reach final in style but defence still a worry

Tipperary 3-13 Mayo 5-20

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Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor scores their fifth goal past Tipperary goalkeeper Evan Comerford in the fog of Croke Park

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor scores their fifth goal past Tipperary goalkeeper Evan Comerford in the fog of Croke Park

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Tipperary's Conal Kennedy dejected at the end of the game

Tipperary's Conal Kennedy dejected at the end of the game

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

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Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor scores their fifth goal past Tipperary goalkeeper Evan Comerford in the fog of Croke Park

Rarely have two All-Ireland semi-final cakewalks - won by a cumulative 28 points - provided such a bizarre dichotomy.

A contrast that leaves you wondering how on earth can the Green and Red Benevolent Fund, otherwise known as the Mayo defence, possibly live with Dublin's cold-blooded killing machine?

Now, that statement may sound anything but charitable towards a county that has just cruised into its fifth All-Ireland final since 2012. To a team that has amassed the ridiculously sublime tally of 5-20. To a team that had mission accomplished long before half-time when they led Tipperary by 16 points, stretching to 21 after 50 minutes, before they eventually settled on 13.

It also does a disservice to a team that has reached a final while in the midst of radical transition, with several of the rookie brigade - notably Ryan O'Donoghue and Tommy Conroy up front and Oisín Mullin in defence - among their leading lights here.

Mind you, they were all playing a socially distant second fiddle to Cillian O'Connor who can now add the milestone of all-time highest tally in a championship match to his status as the all-time record SFC scorer.

O'Connor reaffirmed his reputation as the greatest point-blank poacher in the business while totting up 4-9 (4-3 from play) against the Blue and Gold Goal Rush Foundation, otherwise known as the Tipp defence.

This was his fourth SFC hat-trick and eclipsed the previous record, one he jointly held by virtue of his 3-9 against Limerick in 2018.

Yet, for all the rightful plaudits raining down on O'Connor, the bigger story from Croke Park yesterday was the dishevelled state of a defence that now has less than a fortnight to 'polyfill' the gaps before facing those remorseless metronomes from the metropolis.

Depending on the strictness of your definition, Mayo coughed up either 10 or 11 goal chances.

Settling for 10 they were: the three that were scored (by Brian Fox, Paudie Feehan and Conor Sweeney); the two early gilt-edged openings saved by David Clarke (from Michael Quinlivan and Sweeney) before O'Connor had even flicked home his first; and another five in the second half (if you count Lee Keegan's black card pull down on Quinlivan, Philip Austin's piledriver blocked by Padraig O'Hora's head, glorious openings pulled wide by Steven O'Brien and Liam Boland, and a late Quinlivan snap shot that flew wide with Clarke stranded in no man's land).

For clarification, Mayo closed the first-half barricades after some early man-for-man horrors, and Tipp's seven second-half chances all materialised when this roller coaster semi-final had been reduced to a story of 'by how much?'

But what would happen if you gifted Dublin three such opportunities in the first 10 minutes? Everyone knows the answer, including James Horan.

The Mayo boss is acutely aware of the 'invincible' narrative surrounding this Dublin team, who have made the transition from Jim Gavin to Dessie Farrell so seamless as to make you wonder if they manage themselves.

They were everything we have come to expect on Saturday night, taking their time to obliterate Cavan without ever evincing even the merest hint of vulnerability.

The 12 points tallied by Cavan was the most Dublin have conceded in their four-game saunter to the final. Stephen Cluxton didn't have a save to make. Their skipper-in-perpetuity has kept four clean sheets. He has been called on to make just one save, from Joey Wallace of Meath when it didn't even matter.

What does this tell us? Dublin relish the dirty work of goal prevention every bit as much as pulling and dragging opposition defences to breaking point. And they won't gift the 3-6 in first half turnovers that Tipperary manager David Power was left to lament.

So, safe in the knowledge that Cillian O'Connor won't be breaking his freshly minted record on December 19, what must Mayo do? They must deny Dublin the oxygen of an early goal - and keep on denying them.

With no sweeper in sight to begin with, they laboured under the high ball directed towards Quinlivan and Sweeney. And when Tipp starting running hard straight lines, they struggled even more.

Horan saluted those early Clarke saves that have long been his trademark, while accepting the chances were "very poor from our point of view, those high balls in, but even the (Fox) goal they got was a terrible goal to give away… so we'll look at that for sure. In the second half as well, the game was gone and maybe we got a little bit lackadaisical for a while."

Lackadaisical won't cut it against the Dubs. He knows it. Dessie knows it. We all know it.

SCORERS, Mayo: C O'Connor 4-9 (0-6fs), T Conroy 0-4 (1m), D O'Connor 1-0, D Coen 0-2, P Durcan, C Loftus, M Ruane, K McLoughlin, A O'Shea all 0-1 each

Tipperary: C Sweeney 1-9 (0-8fs), B Fox 1-0, C O'Riordan 0-2, S O'Brien, K Fahey 0-1 each

Belfast Telegraph


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