Sport is cruel and it has been particularly cruel to this group – Shane Curran

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Mayo for Sam!!! If we’ve seen that caption once we’ve seen it a million times. The faithful supporters of the west of Ireland county have endured more heartbreak and disappointment than any in recent times. Trip after trip to Croke Park on the penultimate or final destination as ended in abject failure. The reservoir of resistance runs deep. The defiance to keep returning, year on year, one heartbreaking defeat after another is admirable, almost warrior like. The players mirror that image. Sport is cruel and it has been particularly cruel to this group. Undoubtedly talented they are also warriors. They’re regularly ridiculed, without understanding.

Beaten by only the narrowest of margins by both Dublin and Kerry in recent times, they are a team not far from reaching the summit. Not many teams who can keep returning to the well and still produce performances of courage and skill, like the one the produced in defeating Tyrone the last day out.
The character assassinations of recent times have only served to deepen the bank of resistance in their pursuit of All Ireland glory. Sunday’s semi final brings another challenge on that road . Strong favourites against this year’s surprise package Tipperary. Can they deal with the expectation of their loyal following?

Tipperary are the footballing story of championship. While the meteoric rise to the last four stage of the competition may be a surprise to many, they did reach the last 12 twice during Peter Creedon’s reign. Their defeat of Galway was also very comprehensive in its execution. Tipperary are a team well coached and well drilled . They also have a degree of physicality around the middle third of the field which would be the envy of most county’s. Their platform for success against Galway was built on their strength in this area.

They’re unlikely to enjoy the same freedom against a Mayo outfit who can call on the strength and physicality of Lee Keegan the O’Shea’s, Parson’s, Boyle and O’Connors in this sector of the field.
While Gary Brennan has won many plaudits for his performances in the middle of the field for Clare, Peter Acheson has been equally impressive for Tipperary this year. They also have a much lauded forward line, based one must say on a very strong performance against an abject Galway side in the quarter final.

Michael Quinlivan, Ken O’ Halloran and Conor Sweeney in particular have been very impressive when supplied with early foot-passed ball. Aidan O’Shea’s performance versus Tyrone was one of his best in recent times . Mature and intelligent on the ball he was equally adaptive in his defensive duties.

In summation tactically I believe Stephen Rochford has made the necessary changes to give Mayo a better balance, especially in their defensive awareness. Their ability to dominate the middle third will be a crucial and deciding factor. Starting both Andy Moran and or Alan Dillon, also has proved to be beneficial to the team dynamic. Dillon’s first championship start in almost two years versus Tyrone showed Rochford has confidence in his elder statesmen to do the necessary job when required.

Their Achilles heel over the past couple of seasons has been the concession of goals. Nine goals conceded in five games last year has been reduced to just three goals in six this year. Kevin McLoughlin has developed into his sweeper deployment role and thus is having a stabilising effect of their defensive strategy. Mayo’s superior experience and ability will be a deciding factor versus a Tipperary team who’ll bring loads of enthusiasm and no little skill to Sunday’s encounter.

However the greater balance rests with a Mayo side still hungry , still fighting for the ultimate prize .I expect after Sunday there will be only one feast left on their oft times treacherous journey to the summit.

Verdict  – Mayo by half dozen or more.

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