Mayo booked their place in Croke Park in Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon, after a tough battle against the defeated Lenister finalists Offaly. Tony Duffy's men were made to fight all the way to the final whistle to earn their crack at Tyrone in the semi-final, but one man stood head and shoulders above all others on the damp grass in Roscommon. Cillian O'Connor finished the day with nine points to his name and played the captains role to perfection, showing his team how it should be done time after time in front of the posts. One score in the game opitimised his influence and ability on the field. With the sides level at 1-12 a piece and four and half minutes left on the clock. The young Ballintubber man stood over a free almost 60 yards out just to the right of goal, tossed his gloves aside and attempted a free that many senior inter county players wouldn't have a crack at. When the ball passed over the cross ba it still had pleanty of air on it.
This was by no means a great Mayo performance, Offaly were tough, hard and stuck to their task doggedly throughout and if they came out on top at the end it would have been no great surprise. But Mayo stuck in there and their guns and when the game was there to be won they stood up and took the chance.
The men from the Faithful county raced out of the blocks in the first half into a three point lead before Mayo had even ventured into their half, but Mayo realed them back in thanks two two points from O'Connor. The with eight minutes on the clock Danny Kriby dropped a free into the danger area, O'Connor flicked it on to Jack McDonnell who had replaced Cian Costello in the starting 15 before throw in. McDonnell made some space for himself and drove the ball low to the right hand corner of the net to put Mayo into the lead. Sean Kelly made the gap three points a few seconds later when he clipped the ball over the bar from 21 yards out, but any ideas Mayo had of pulling away from Offaly didn't last long.
The Faithful county men kept plugging away with their full forward line causing Mayo a lot of problems, and the answers weren't that forthcoming from Mayo which could be an issue in Croke Park in a few weeks. With two minutes of normal time left in the half a long ball into Mayo rearguard wasn't dealt with and Paul McPadden beat Ciarán Twomey to the ball. The nippy corner forward played the ball to Noel Andrew Graham who applied a deft finish to send it to the back of the Mayo net to put his side back in the lead. Both sides clipped on another point each before the break to leave Mayo trailing by two points on a score of 1-8 to 1-6.
That gap was pushed out to tree points two minutes into the half when Graham sent over a pointed free. However, before 40 minutes had elapsed in the contest Mayo had hauled themselves level, Darren Coen hit a huge score from the 45m line on the run, then O'Connor slotted over a free from the edge of the exclusion zone and Jack McDonnell leveled it up after he won the race to win the ball from Darren Coen's blocked down effort. Graham who was the go to man for Offaly all day (he started at midfield and played the last couple of minutes at full forward, as his side looked for the winning goal ) put his side back in front with 42 minutes gone from a free. That lead was pushed out to two points again a minute later by Conor Horan point. Tony Duffy began to ring the changes at this stage with both Jams Shaughnessy and Conor O'Shea coming into the attack.
Séan Kelly hit Mayo's tenth point of the afternoon to close the gap back to one and O'Connor leveled it with a fine score from the left corner. Offaly sub Johnny Brickland put Offaly back in the lead for the last time with seven minutes left. But from here on in it was the O'Connor show where he kicked Mayo into the final four of the championship for the third time in as many years.
Mayo: P Mannion; B Harrison, N Freeman, C Twomey; R Quirke, C Walsh, C Horan; D Kirby, S McGarry; F Durkan, M Forde, S Kelly(0-2 ); J McDonnell (1-1 ), D Coen (0-2 ), C O'Connor (0-9,4f ). Subs: M Regan for C Horan (19 mins ); J Shaughnessy for Durkan (46 mins ), C O'Shea for McGarry (48 mins ), C Costello for J McDonnell (54 mins ).
Offaly: M Carragher; C Lowry, E Rigney, C Donohoe; S Hannon, D Hogan, J O'Connor (0-1 ); N A Graham (1-3, 3f ), D Kelly; P Cunningham (0-1 ), P Camon (0-1 ), J Flattery (0-1 ); P McPadden (0-2 ), S Cullen (0-2 ), B Cushen. Subs: J Brickland (0-1 ) for B Cushen (25 mins ), T Mooney for S Hannon (47 mins ), D Hickey for J Flattery (57 mins )
Ref: P O'Sullivan (Kerry )