Mayo's back in the promised land of the All-Ireland senior football final while Dublin proved too tough for Cavan despite them breaking a 23-year history.
Mayo are back in the promised land that is the All-Ireland senior football final, albeit on the second weekend of the year rather than the traditional second weekend in September, their passage booked thanks a four-goal haul from the brilliant Cillian O’Connor in Sunday’s 5-20 to 3-13 win over Munster champions Tipperary.
History was again to the fore as the Tipperary players laid a wreath in honor of the centenary of the Bloody Sunday massacre at Croke Park, but history in the making was more on Mayo’s mind as they booked a final date with Dublin, their third final in two spells with James Horan in charge.
Still chasing that elusive Sam Maguire for his beloved Green and Red, Horan knows O’Connor was the man of the moment in this most open of games at Croker as his goals continually had Tipperary in trouble.
After O’Connor grabbed 4-9 in total, Horan said, “Ah, he’s been playing very well. All year he’s been sharp. His body is in great shape. He is flying. He is a real leader up there and obviously delighted with how he is playing. He’s really, really sharp for sure.
“Winning an All-Ireland semifinal comprehensively is not to be sniffed at. I thought the pressure we put on maybe after about five or six minutes of the first half, particularly up front, was very good.
“That gave us a platform for being able to keep pressure on them. We won a huge amount of turnovers in the first half and that was the platform for the victory really. It got us in the lead and we just saw it out from there.”
Mayo fans will be dreaming of finally putting one over the Dubs in the All-Ireland decider on Saturday the 19th, quite a task considering how easily the champions have brushed aside all that’s been put in front of them this season. Horan wasn’t thinking about Dessie Farrell’s side on Sunday night however.
He added, “We haven’t looked too far behind at anything, and a lot of the younger players that have come through couldn’t give two continentals about what has gone on in the past, which is great in one way.
“Look it, Dublin are the most successful team in the history of the GAA. You can’t miss that fact. Sport is funny and we’ll do our thing and we’ll see what we can do.”
Tipperary, brilliant winners over Cork a fortnight ago to lift the Munster crown, enjoyed their moment in the Croke Park fog, a fog that kept the reality of the scoreboard out of sight for long spells.
They put three goals on that scoreboard themselves, but manager David Power was left to rue the ones that got away when he spoke to the media.
“We’d two serious goal chances first couple of minutes, had we got them it’s probably a different game. We scored 3-13, I’d say we could have left another five, six goals behind us,” said Power.
“But, also we turned over way too much ball in the first half. 3-6 came from our turnovers. You can’t gift good teams those kind of chances. Mayo has some very, very good players.”
A season to remember for Tipperary football has finally come to an end, but Power is adamant it won’t be forgotten any day soon, on or off the pitch. He added, “I think it will be huge for Tipperary football in terms of the goodwill that has been out there, seeing all of the children in different schools wearing the Tipp jersey. I think young people will want to start playing football for Tipperary. So I think that is going to be massive.
“We have to ensure it is. This can’t be just a once off. We need now to be heading to Division 2 next year, that has to be a target. We need to be playing against those teams. It’s a huge learning curve for us there. I wasn’t expecting this to be honest to get to an All-Ireland semifinal this year. This is the start, we must build on this. The big thing for Tipp football is we have a habit of going back, we need to go forward now.
“As a group we can get stronger, we can improve. Already the players are setting their targets. Ultimately that is what it is all about. Where we were at the start of the year, it has been an incredible journey.”
You can watch the Mayo v Tipperary GAA Football Senior Championship All-Ireland Semi-Final Full Game here:
Dubs too tough for Cavan
Cavan enjoyed the ride all autumn as they lifted the Ulster SFC title for the first time in 23 years last month, but the rollercoaster came crashing to a halt at Croke Park on Saturday, their 1-24 to 0-12 defeat to Dublin, prompting more talk about financial doping and the disparity of an All-Ireland series that has Dessie Farrell’s side chasing a sixth straight in the December 19 decider against Mayo.
For Cavan boss Mickey Graham there was no room for disgruntlement or despair when the final whistle blew on his 2020 season with that loss on Saturday. Instead he was quick to praise the Dubs for what they are -- a wonder of the GAA world as their dominance remains total.
“People talk about the quality of players that Dublin have, but the work ethic. When they didn’t have the ball, how quickly they wanted to get it back. We need to get that into our game and every other team before us. That work-ethic, that intensity. It’s a wee bit like Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. That’s the standard they’ve set,” said Graham.
“They’ve raised the bar and it’s up to every other county in Ireland to get up to that standard. We can make complaints about funding and facilities but it’s up to everybody else to raise their own standards.
“That’s the standard, boys. It’s a once in a generation team there. Like everything else, they’ll come and move on. The rest of us just have to wait until that time comes and try and pick up the scraps afterwards, let’s be honest!
“Sooner or later, somebody is going to break that cycle and it’s up to the rest of the teams to take up the mantle.”
Robbie McDaid grabbed the game’s only goal and while the result was never in doubt, Graham was proud of his team. He said, “You can’t fault the lads, they gave it a go at least. We could have come up here and decided we’re going for a moral victory and we’re going to park the bus. But we didn’t and I thought that was brave of the lads.
“We’ve still a lot of catching up to do on the conditioning end of things. We’ve done a lot of work to get where we are. We went about that a couple of years ago when we appointed a full-time athletic development officer in Cavan. We’re only starting to see the fruits of it now. But it’ll take another couple of years.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey. These lads have had so many setbacks the last two years. It’s been well documented the players we didn’t have and the players we lost.
“But these lads came and wore the jersey with pride. We got relegated from Division 2 to Division 3 and it would have been very easy for the lads to look for someone to blame. But the lads stuck at it.”
Dublin boss Dessie Farrell would never be one to gloat about a victory and it wasn’t any different when he spoke to RTE Radio after Saturday’s game and used that stage to plead for the families of his squad to be allowed into the All-Ireland decider against Mayo, a plea that was echoed by opposite number James Horan.
“For a player to end up on the pitch here tonight, or on any given day, there is a huge amount of support in the background,” stated Farrell.
“I just think generally for an All-Ireland final, it’s such a special cultural occasion in this country. It’s a shame for family members if there wasn’t some allowance made for those.
“You look around the country today, we’re back in Level 3, every shopping center the length and breadth of the country is full of people buzzing around. The GAA have demonstrated that they can manage the situation really, really well. I think having another couple of hundred or even a thousand people in for both the hurling and football finals would make very little difference.
“People need to realize, and I’m encouraging the authorities to think about this, for a player to end up on the pitch here tonight, or on any given day, there is a huge amount of support in the background.
“Family members, loved one, friends, work colleagues that make huge sacrifices to allow that to happen and from a players’ perspective they’d like to recognize that and they’d love if they were in a position to attend an All-Ireland final.”
You can watch the Dublin v Cavan GAA Football Senior Championship All-Ireland Semi-Final Full Game here:
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