At the end of the day the long and winding road has led back to the destination that most had hoped for, Mayo in the first All Ireland semifinal on Sunday August 21. Rather than coming through to this stage as provincial champions with just a quarter-final to play, Mayo have made their way through the scenic route and disposed of Leinster opposition twice and then the Ulster champions to get here. Next up for them is a challenge from a group of men from Munster, but once again it is not one of the ones we would have expected. Tipperary, a division three side that finished their league campaign just two points above relegation to division four for next year, have wandered their way through this championship summer to become the story of the summer.
But that story has to have an ending, and on Sunday afternoon, Mayo will be looking to put the final full stop on this adventure story come around 5pm in the late summer sun in Croke Park. As semifinal pairings go, this is one that has no serious history, Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, even Tyrone, there is a history there for Mayo over recent years, but Tipperary, there has been just one encounter this century, back in a qualifier in 2002 when Mayo went to Ennis and saw them off in not too impressive style by 0-21 to 1-14, a day when James Horan scored five points and Ciaran McDonald chipped in with four, while Mayo's current goalkeeping coach, Peter Burke kept goal in front of a full back line of Kenneth Mortimer, David Heaney, and Pat Coyne. David Brady also kicked four points from midfield where he was partnered by David Tiernan. As for our last semifinal meeting back in the 1920 championship which was played in 1922, Mayo lost 1-5 to 1-0, there has not been much history between the sides to write about.
But back to the modern day, Mayo have one thing on their mind and that is getting over the line and seeing off the challenge of the modern day Tipperary. While it has taken a while for things to bed in this year under Stephen Rochford, Mayo have shown that they are able to adapt to situations that present themselves on a game by game basis. No more so than in their last eight win over Tyrone, with Kevin Keane dropping out of the side and Keith Higgins moving back to the defence to fulfill a very particular role that suited that game. On Sunday, we can expect a few changes from the side that lined up against Tyrone with Michael Quinlivan a far more physical threat and traditional full forward than Tyrone posed, with Keane maybe coming back into the fold there. But it is not just Quinlivan Mayo have to keep their eye on, with Conor Sweeney and Philip Austin more than capable of causing damage. Brendan Harrison, who has been having a quietly excellent year, will be looked upon to put in another big performance. While many Mayo supporters have not been happy with Kevin McLoughlin playing in a sweeping role, this game is where it could become a vital component of what Mayo need to do. If Mayo can shut down the Tipp attack and get the ball into the Knockmore flier's hands to get counter attacks moving quickly it should pay dividends.
In the middle of the park the Tipp duo of Peter Acheson and George Hannigan complement each other very well, with Acheson well able to drive forward and kick a point while Hanngian will get through a power of work. Here Mayo will need to be on top form too, Seamus O'Shea got through a power of work as is his wont in the quarter-final against Tyrone, but who partners him there will be interesting to see after the ball is thrown in. Donal Vaughan or Tom Parsons will both be vying for the job. With Tipp likely to push up on the Mayo kick-outs, the middle third will become a key battleground.
Alan Dillion's first half performance against Tyrone was an excellent contribution from one of the Mayo greats, but this weekend's game may call for a different type of game, so he may not see action till late in the day. Diarmuid O'Connor put in a mountain of work for a man who was operating off full pace in the last outing, the break between these two games should see the Ballintubber in much better shape for the challenge ahead. Cillian O'Connor has started to find some great form and the industry and endeavour of a reborn Andy Moran will give the Tipp defence plenty to think about.