Mayo look to reach their tipping point

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship Semi-Final

Man of the north: Conor Loftus of Mayo poses for a portrait at Downpatrick Head in Ballycastle, Mayo, during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Series National Launch. Photo: Sportsfile

Man of the north: Conor Loftus of Mayo poses for a portrait at Downpatrick Head in Ballycastle, Mayo, during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Series National Launch. Photo: Sportsfile

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That adage applies to Mayo football more than to most things, and the one thing that thankfully seems to have stayed the same in this year of Covid - is that when the business end of the championship came around, the Mayo senior footballers were right there in the thick of it.

One thing that has stayed pretty much the same, despite first looks on the surface, is the composition of this current Mayo team. While there have been some bright new additions to the side and those held in reserve - there is still a thick vein of experience and championship-hardened edge running right through it.

The last time that Mayo faced off against Tipperary was on a blistering sunny day in Semple Stadium in a round two qualifier in 2018 and when you look at those who saw action that day and compare it to the team that most recently saw off Galway in the Connacht decider - they are remarkably similar.

Eight players started both games - David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan, Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor, while two more of those started the Connacht final three weeks ago. Conor Loftus and Diarmuid O'Connor came off the bench that day in 2018 and going the opposite direction was Keith Higgins, who started that 2018 game and came on as a sub against Galway.

That's 11 players who are still serious key factors of the team three seasons on - and it is on that experience that Mayo will need to lean on come Sunday - and with plenty more to call on who could be a factor in this game - with the likes of Colm Boyle, Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons still involved in the side and looking to feature.

It really is only the likes of Eoghan McLaughlin, Tommy Conroy and Oisin Mullin of the newcomers, who look to have nailed down starting positions in the side - while the slightly more experienced Ryan O'Dongohue has been winning the battle with Mark Moran for a place in the half-forward line, between them starting the three championship games so far. But even that battle could see both of them lose out if James Horan decides to bolster his midfield experience and drop in one of Parsons or O'Shea on Sunday and move Conor Loftus to the half forward line.

While Tipp will be the underdogs in most people's eyes, it is still the game this weekend that if an upset occurs that most think it will come in.

Mayo are well aware that the Munster champions are packed full of talent especially up front with Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan are two of the best in the business.

The availability of Colin O’Riordan for the Munster final and this weekend's game has been a massive boost to their side, with the Sydney Swans Aussie Rules player putting in a big showing in the provincial final, especially down the home stretch in the middle third, which will be a key battle ground on Sunday, where Stephen O'Brian and Liam Casey are a formidable pairing; with the likes of Brian Fox coming back and sniping for possession from breaks to get the Tipp attack moving.

Up front, Mayo will have to make it count, and they have been fairly free scoring since the return to action of the inter county game, bar the Connacht final. Cillian O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea are going to be a handful for any full back line and when you throw in the pace of Conroy - they should have enough to give the Tipp rearguard more than they can handle.

In the half forward line - it will be interesting to see who gets the nod to join what you would expect would be Kevin McLoughlin and Diarmuid O'Connor as a trio on that line. Both Moran and O'Donoghue have shown great potential to be big men for the future with O'Donoghue getting the nod most recently - but will there be a change up here come Sunday to give Mayo something more or a little bit different from what they have offered already?

It's going to be a different day in Croke Park for Mayo - but one they're more than capable of making sure they repeat in two weeks time.


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