The time has arrived again, another trip to Croker, our third semi-final in a row under James Horan, and it is time for all the talking to stop. It is game five of six as Mayo take on Tyrone in Croke Park on Sunday for a place in the All- Ireland final on September 22. I have one small fear ahead of the game, I’m sure it is only among the supporters and not the players, but a lot of people are dismissing Tyrone’s chances and are already wondering who Mayo will play in the final, I have never seen as many Mayo flags bought and as many green and red flags on cars and houses for a semi-final, we normally wait for a final for this to happen and that is a very dangerous way to be thinking before taking on the Red Hand. Confidence is one thing but cockiness is another. Have people forgotten that Tyrone have won three All- Irelands in the last 10 years and they completely demoralised far more superior Kerry teams than themselves in the not too distant past in finals. In the 2008 final, Kerry’s Tommy Walsh and Kieran Donaghy, the twin towers, were considered un-markable but Mickey Harte and the McMahon brothers found a way to do the job. Tyrone have an unbelievable capacity to frustrate you and get in your face, so to speak. They will annoy you and remind you of their success and Mayo’s failures in All-Ireland finals.
Ryan McMenamin once asked David Brady in the heat of battle if he would like to feel his medals in his arse pocket, Brady felt like taking his head off. Tyrone teams are verbally on another level. My own club Charlestown experienced it when they played Cookstown of Tyrone this year in the Intermediate All Ireland semi final, even after winning the Cookstown players jibed their beaten opponents.
Before the championship started I tipped Tyrone to win Sam Maguire on a sports show on 2fm (I wasn’t allowed pick Mayo ), the reason, how close they ran the Dubs in the league final without marquee forward Stephen O’Neill. My mind swayed somewhat after their dismal loss to Donegal in the first round in Ulster but if any team was going to get a run in the qualifiers it would be Tyrone. Personally I’m glad Conor Gormally’s suspension has been overturned as it gives the critics less reason to doubt the quality of the opposition, However Martin Penrose is a huge loss to Tyrone along with injured goalkeeper Niall Morgan (remember him ). Penrose is a great link player and on a good day Morgan could get you five or six points from frees and 45s. If anyone is expecting a face off between the two best midfielders in the game at the moment then you will be disappointed as Sean Cavanagh and Aiden O’Shea will not be marking each other. Neither manager will want his key man chasing rather than influencing the match. It is a huge game for Seamus O’Shea and I do not care if he does not touch the ball as long he nullifies Sean Cavanagh. Note to Seamus; Shimmy to the left and attack with the right is what Cavanagh will do almost all of the time. I am convinced someone has been mimicking this in training for him the last three weeks. He has been Tyrone’s Man of the Match in their last three games. His brother Colm has the envious task of trying to sort out the man mountain Aidan O’Shea. Colm Cavanagh has received a lot of criticism in and outside Tyrone for his performances but he had a damn good game against Monaghan. Mickey Harte will have to try to thwart the influence of our half back line, Boyle, Vaughan and Keegan have been superb this year, and their tenacity on the breaking ball and ability to support attacks and pitch in with the odd score or five has been the reason Mayo are red hot favourites for Sunday. It will be enthralling to see how Tyrone set up. Keith Higgins may find himself in the forward line again such was his influence against Donegal, and combine that with the six outstanding defenders we have, we may well see him start at 12 but given a free role to help out Seamus O’Shea and whatever other player needs a dig out. His endless penetrating runs and ability to win breaking ball is a brilliant asset to have on the half forward line along with Kevin McLoughlin and Alan Dillon. Mayo’s forwards need to be aware of the attacking threats of full-back Conor Clarke and centre-half-back Peter Harte. The bookies see Mayo winning this game by 4 but I think it will be more. Cillian O’Connor is 6/1 for the first goal, surely a shoo in at the rate he is converting. It is time to get the green and red of Mayo blasting over the speaker system in Croke Park again. I have been dreaming this week about having two teams in Croke Park on the third Sunday in September. Let’s make it happen. And if you don’t have enough of me already, I’ll be on The GAA Show on 3E this evening at 6.30pm and even if you miss that you can catch it online over the weekend.
If you would like to get in touch with John drop him an email at [email protected]