Mayo and Tipperary are set to do battle later today at Croke Park in what will be a novel All-Ireland semi-final clash. Outlined below are three key battles which will have a huge bearing on today’s outcome.
Brian Fox vs Kevin McLoughlin
Although Fox and McLoughlin won’t be in direct opposition, both players have been hugely influential in occupying sweeper roles for their respective counties this summer. Fox has played an integral role for Liam Kearns’ men as Tipperary have shocked the footballing world to reach today’s All-Ireland semi-final. Fox’s ability to sweep in front of his full-back line has been crucial to Tipperary’s success. Furthermore, his ability to get forward and help out on the counter attack has added a great sense of potency to their attack.
Under Stephen Rochford, Kevin McLoughlin has found a new role. This summer has seen McLoughlin play in a sweeper role for Mayo, a role he has occupied to great effect. His footballing brain, pace and fitness levels make him a perfect candidate to operate in this specific role. Against Tyrone, the Knockmore man was crucial to Mayo’s one point win.
Both Fox and McLoughlin are somewhat underrated but whichever sweeper plays the more dominant role today will have a serious input in determining the final result.
Bill Maher vs Diarmuid O’Connor
Bill Maher epitomises the energy and enthusiasm that Tipperary possess. The 2012 All-Ireland minor hurling winning captain has turned his focus to the big ball this year and both Maher and the team have benefited hugely. The Kilsheelan-Kilclash man is a bundle of energy on the field of play and is constantly involved in Tipperary’s build-up play. His direct running has caused ample problems for defences across the country this summer. Maher’s excels in his first duty of defence too and will need to be on top form to keep tabs on Young Footballer Of The Year, Diarmuid O’Connor.
O’Connor, younger brother of inside forward Cillian, is one of Mayo’s most crucial players. Having won Young Footballer Of The Year last year, the Ballintubber man has further improved this year and is in line to claim the coveted award for the second year in a row. Having guided Mayo’s u21 team to All-Ireland glory at the start of the year, O’Connor will hope to help Mayo to long-awaited senior glory. O’Connor provides the critical link between defence and attack. His scoring ability cannot be underestimated either.
Michael Quinlivan vs Kevin Keane
Quinlivan’s performances at full-forward have been nothing short of superb this season. The Clonmel Commercials man, a long with Kevin O’Halloran and Conor Sweeney have bagged staggering total of 6-51 between the three of them this summer. Quinlivan has contributed 2-20 of that figure. His athleticism and stylish style of play has him in line for an All-Star award.
Facing him today, will more than likely be Mayo’s Kevin Keane. The Westport man has been in and out of the Mayo starting line-up for a few years now but his physicality and size makes him the most suitable candidate to keep tabs on Quinlivan. Keane’s job is crucial. If Mayo can limit Quinlivan’s influence on today’s encounter, Stephen Rochford’s men will more than likely go home the happier of the two sides.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena