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Mayo book their final ticket


GOING THEIR OWN WAY A dejected Evan Comerford of Tipperary is consoled by Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor after the final whistle last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

Mayo    2-13
Ger Flanagan
Croke Park

HERE we go again.
Mayo’s sixth consecutive All-Ireland semi-final ended with the outcome that most had predicted. But, just like the rest of this year’s rollercoaster journey, it was far from conventional.
The scoreboard may somewhat flatter Mayo. On another day, had a certain amount of luck been on Tipperary’s side, the result may have been a much tighter affair. But ultimately, Mayo did just enough to book their place in their first All-Ireland final since 2013, thanks primarily to some late action in both halves.
Worryingly, they only managed to score three points in the opening 25 minutes. But a rampant scoring blitz of 1-7 to a single Tipperary score between then and half-time saw them go in at the break with a convincing 1-10 to 0-7 lead that many felt would only increase on the resumption.
But after the resumption, Tipp’ managed to claw back the deficit to two, and there were still three between them until Mayo’s second goal arrived in the 64th minute. Evan Regan slipped whilst shooting for a point, and in doing so, managed to unintentionally find fellow substitute Conor O’Shea, who showed excellent composure as his first-time shot trickled past Evan Comerford into the bottom corner of the net.
This all but knocked the wind out of the Tipperary sails which wasn’t helped soon after by the dismissal of the lively Bill Maher, for an off-the-ball incident with Kevin McLoughlin. The Knockmore man seemed to be enjoying his redeployment back in the half-forward line.
McLoughlin’s positioning wasn’t the only tactical change Stephen Rochford made for this encounter. Shortly before throw-in, it was announced that Barry Moran had been brought in to replace Kevin Keane. The big Castlebar man’s role involved pushing up and contesting the Tipperary kick-outs, whilst also dropping back to sweep in front of his own goal. Mayo’s resident man-marker Lee Keegan was asked to shadow Tipp’ danger-man Michael Quinlivan, and kept the Clonmel Commercials star scoreless from play.
Veteran Andy Moran produced another tireless display, particularly in the first half where the Tipperary defence struggled to get within touching distance of the Ballaghaderreen man. After opening the scoring inside the first three minutes, his first of four in the opening period, Tipp’ replied instantly through a Philip Austin point.
Despite the defensive changes, Mayo’s rearguard looked shaky early on as Tipp’ began to find gaps. Quinlivan pointed a free after being brought down by Keegan, but then the Munster finalists were hit with a major setback. Half-back Robbie Kiely was black-carded for a foul on Jason Doherty, with Cillian O’Connor pointing the resultant free.
The next quarter of an hour proved difficult for Mayo as Tipperary rattled off four points to Mayo’s one (another Cillian O’Connor free). In this period Mayo were guilty of some poor wides, and lost possession around the middle of the field on more than once occasion.
Then came Mayo’s much needed kick-start. It originated with a Keith Higgins turnover on his own 45’. The Ballyhaunis man played a quick one-two with Aidan O’Shea and made a penetrating run through the heart of the Tipp’ defence before off-loading to Doherty, who dummied inside before firing low into the net. This was the signal for Mayo’s most dominant period, and at times over the next few minutes they looked an unstoppable force during this free-scoring assault. Kevin McLoughlin will be disappointed he didn’t manage to finish what was a glorious opportunity for a second Mayo goal, but with a six-point advantage at half-time, it looked forgivable.
For some reason, Mayo failed to carry this momentum into the second half as Tipp’ scored five of the next six points (Diarmuid O’Connor’s point the only exception), blowing the contest wide open. Quinlivan’s attempt to get his side within a point was denied by Hawkeye, before Cillian O’Connor’s quick  free at the other end almost drew another goal, only for Comerford to deny Andy Moran with a smart save.
It took an inspirational score from Colm Boyle to end Mayo’s 18-minute scoring drought. And, with the game still very much in the balance, the third of the O’Shea brothers rose off the bench to deliver what was the killer blow.
Kerry or Dublin await on September 18.

D Clarke; B Harrison, K Higgins, L Keegan (0-1); B Moran; C Boyle (0-1), P Durcan; S O’Shea, D Vaughan; D O’Connor (0-2), K McLoughlin (0-1), J Doherty (1-0); A Moran (0-4), A O’Shea (0-1), C O’Connor (0-3, 3f).
Subs used: T Parsons for S O’Shea (53 mins); C O’Shea (1-0) for Doherty (58 mins); E Regan for A Moran (63 mins); C Barrett for Boyle (67 mins); A Dillon for McLoughlin (69 mins); C Loftus for C O’Connor (71 mins).

E Comerford, A Campbell, C McDonald, C O’Shaughnessy; B Fox; B Maher (0-1), R Kiely, J Feehan; P Acheson, G Hannigan; J Keane, K O’Halloran (0-2, 1f); C Sweeney (0-3, 1f), P Austin (0-1), M Quinlivan (0-7, 7f).
Subs used: S Leahy for R Kiely (10 mins, black card); A Moloney for S Leahy (32 mins); S O’Connell for O’Shaughnessy (56 mins); I Fahey for K O’Halloran (66 mins); M Dunne for J Keane (72 mins).

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)