I’d planned for some time to be away now, as it’s the only bit of the summer that suits as holiday time for us all. If we were in Sunday’s semi-final as Connacht champions I’d have missed it and the curious way that the qualifiers have sent us back along the same route means I’ll still miss it. So that was all expected – what isn’t is that it’s an All-Ireland semi-final involving ourselves and Tipperary. That I certainly didn’t foresee.
Surprise packets they may be but there’s little arguing with the fact that they’ve got this far on merit. Wins over Cork, Derry and Nestor Cup winners Galway prove that point. Tipp have earned their place in the final four this year and we have to view the challenge they’re likely to pose for us in the most serious terms.
They may not be seen as a footballing county but, before we tackle with them on Sunday, it’s worth our while noting that, for all our huffing and puffing, they’ve more All-Ireland senior football titles than we have. Sure, two of them – 1889 and 1895 – were captured in the century before last with a third, in 1900, added before we’d ever begun to kick a ball in anger as a county.
Their most recent success was way back in 1920, sixteen years before we won our first All-Ireland, and eight years before the Sam Maguire was first contested. Actually that’s not true – they won the 1920 championship alright, beating Dublin by 1-6 to 1-2 in the final but that decider wasn’t played until June 1922.
That 1920 championship also provides us with the second act in the Mayo/Tipperary footballing rivalry (if it can be termed thus). As we’ll do on Sunday, we met then – though on that occasion doing so as respective provincial champions – in the All-Ireland semi-final.
They won that June 1922 fixture, on a scoreline of 1-5 to 1-0, and that made it 2-0 to them in our championship head-to-head as they’d also beaten us in the semi-final of the 1918 championship, a match played in the middle of January 1919. That first championship meeting between us ended in a 2-2 to 1-4 win for them.
It would take us eight decades, the dawn of the current Millennium and the advent of the qualifiers for us to land our first championship blow on them in return. In that Round 4 qualifier played in late July 2002 we prevailed by four points, on a scoreline of 0-21 to 1-14 (match report here).
(NOTE: The original version of the above potted history which I wrote earlier on today has now been revised, based on the more thorough account put together by Mayo Mark of Club ’51. His excellent piece, which also mentions a 1921 championship semi-final walkover win to us conceded by Tipperary, is here.)
That year, incidentally, was the only previous time prior to this summer in which we had a successful run through the qualifiers from Round 2. Then, like now, Tipp entered the qualifiers as the beaten Munster finalists. Unlike this year, the Round 4 hurdle we presented proved too much for the Premier to get over and we ourselves bowed out that year in the quarters.
In terms of Tipp’s recent record, there was no real hint prior to this summer that something big was on the cards. Sure, there was that famous minor All-Ireland title in 2011 – incidentally, it was us who dethroned the then minor champions the following year, at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, with Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen and Diarmuid O’Connor all featuring for us then – and last year’s narrow U21 final defeat to Tyrone. Form at senior level, though, was modest in the extreme.
Last year they thrashed Waterford in their opening Munster championship fixture before going under to Kerry by 2-14 to 2-18 in the semi-final. The same kind of pattern ensued in the qualifiers – thumping Louth by 3-21 to 0-7 in Round 2 at Thurles before succumbing by 0-19 to 0-7 to Tyrone at the same venue in Round 3. Mid-July, then, was as far as last year’s summer gallop got them.
NFL Division Three this spring wasn’t a whole pile better for them either. Here’s how they got on: a Round 1 draw (2-9 to 1-12) against Limerick in Kilmallock; a 2-7 to 1-7 win over Clare in Tipperary town in Round 2; another draw, this time against Westmeath in Mullingar (1-8 to 0-11) in Round 3; a 2-11 to 0-12 win over Offaly at Tipperary town in Round 4; then two defeats – 1-17 to 1-7 against Longford in Pearse Park in Round 5 and 2-13 to 1-5 against Kildare at Clonmel in Round 6 – before a 3-9 to 0-18 draw against Sligo at Markievicz Park in Round 7.
Their seven League points saw them finish in sixth place in the Division. This was two points more than relegated Westmeath just below them, with Limerick finishing bottom of the Division Three pile.
So far, so mediocre you might say. Drawn again against Waterford in this year’s Munster championship, their Fraher Field meeting in May resulted in a far less decisive win for the Premier than their encounter the previous summer had done. Tipp made it through but their 1-15 to 1-7 victory wasn’t a convincing one.
At Semple Stadium two weeks later, however, they ripped up the script. Their 3-14 to 2-15 win over Cork that day was their first championship success against the Rebels since the Fifties and it sent them through to their first Munster final since 2002.
Kerry were never really troubled by Tipp in the Munster decider, cantering serenely to a comfortable 3-17 to 2-10 victory in Killarney in early July. The Premier lads weren’t done yet, though, and despite getting a tough assignment against Derry in Round 4, they prevailed up in Breffni Park by a single point, winning a total shoot-out on a scoreline of 1-21 to 2-17.
Better, much better, was to follow. Galway – blindsided by everyone telling them, and them eagerly telling themselves too, what great lads they were altogether – wandered into the All-Ireland quarter-final seemingly expecting Tipp to lie on their backs at Croke Park and have their bellies tickled. Instead they stumbled into an ambush, Tipp tearing them to shreds in a 3-13 to 1-10 massacre.
A week later ourselves and Tyrone squared up at HQ battling for the right to contest this year’s All-Ireland semi-final against the Blue and Gold. We made it, just about, and immediately we were installed as raging, red-hot favourites to make it through to our third final in five years and our first since 2013.
Let’s finish this one, then, with a vote: how do you reckon we’ll do against the Tipperary giant killers on Sunday?
Will we take Tipp?
- Yes (88%, 610 Votes)
- No (12%, 80 Votes)
Total Voters: 690