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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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Mayo face qualifer route, Cavan expose Tyrone's underbelly — weekend football talking points
We were treated to another upset with Galway’s ambush of Mayo, while Tyrone leaked three goals in a draw with Cavan.

Football championship sparks into life

FOR THE SECOND straight weekend in the football championship, we were treated to a shock result in one of the provinces.

This time it was Galway, who produced a stunning 1-12 to 0-12 upset win over Mayo in the Connacht semi-final. Mayo were chasing a sixth Connacht title in-a-row and they sleepwalked right into a meticulously planned Galway ambush.

Shane Walsh celebrates at the final whistle Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Roscommon, who have been building steadily and made the Division 1 semi-finals, were seen as the team most likely to act as usurpers to Mayo’s throne. Nobody saw this coming.

Perhaps Mayo listened to the hype surrounding them in the build-up to the game. Kingpins in the province since 2011, they already a championship game under the belt and stayed on in London for a week-long training camp.

Galway, on the other hand, arrived into Saturday’s game 11 weeks out from their last competitive fixture. The yarn that 52 players had turned down the chance to train with the squad since Kevin Walsh took over reared its head again during the week. But Galway stormed McHale Park with a smash-and-grab victory that was their first over Mayo since 2008.

A week after Cork were unceremoniously dumped out of Munster by Tipperary, Mayo follow them into the qualifiers. But there’s life in the old dog yet. They’ll be hoping to emulate what Kerry did in 2009 and use the backdoor to build form and momentum.

For a group of players so used to taking the direct route to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, hitting the road in the qualifiers will bruise Mayo’s ego. But it might be exactly what they need.

Colm Cavanagh and James McEnroe Presseye / Andrew Paton/INPHO Presseye / Andrew Paton/INPHO / Andrew Paton/INPHO

Meanwhile in Ulster, Cavan plundered a last minute goal to draw with Tyrone and set up a replay for Clones on July 3rd. Hardly a shock, but it was assumed Mickey Harte’s men would have too much for Cavan, especially after beating them comfortably in the Division 2 final.

Given the fact that Tyrone are being talked up as All-Ireland contenders, it’s fair to say a draw was unexpected. But David Givney’s injury-time goal secured a result in a game that Tyrone really should have had wrapped up long before the finish.

For the Red Hand to throw away a win by conceding a last-minute goal was very un-Tyrone. It’s a real possibility that Harte’s side are better suited to playing in the open expanses of Croke Park.

Over the course of two weekends, Tipperary, Galway and (to an extent) Cavan showed that the championship isn’t quite as predictable as we might have thought.

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Sean Cavanagh with Tomas Corr, Fergal Flanagan, James McEnroe and Killian Brady Presseye / Andrew Paton/INPHO Presseye / Andrew Paton/INPHO / Andrew Paton/INPHO

Did Cavan expose Tyrone’s weakness?

Terry Hyland has to take a huge amount of credit for Cavan snatching a draw today. They clearly identified a deficiency in Tyrone’s full-back line. In the end that’s what earned them a share of the spoils.

The experiment of employing Killian Clarke in the full-forward line didn’t bear fruit, but it didn’t have to because David Givney was so good beside him. He had say in all three of Cavan’s goals and wreaked havoc in front of Michael O’Neill’s goal.

Martin Reilly and Dara McVeety must have covered every blade of grass in Clones.

The first and last scores of the game were Givney goals. Between the 5th and the 70th minute, Tyrone had sixteen scores compared to Cavan’s eight. Cavan are the team with the most room for improvement. They only played in flashes and with Seanie Johnston far from his best they struggled in front of the posts for long spells.

Hyland’s side kicked 13 wides and managed just 10 scores in 70 minutes. While Givney was a menace, he lacked support runners breaking off him when he won possession. Cavan took the wrong options at times and ran the ball into contact, which is a big no-no against Tyrone. If you stroll into contact against this Tyrone team, they’ll gobble you up and hit you on the counter.

To their credit, Cavan showed remarkable composure to force that last-gasp goal. This game will really stand to them. They have two weeks to analyse what worked for them and try to tweak things for the replay. The problem is Tyrone do too.

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Tyrone manager Mickey Harte Presseye / Andrew Paton/INPHO Presseye / Andrew Paton/INPHO / Andrew Paton/INPHO

Is conceding three goals a worry for Mickey Harte?

For only the third time in Mickey Harte’s reign, Tyrone leaked three goals in a championship match. You can pick apart their performance, but the reason they’re not preparing for an Ulster final already is because their rearguard was breached three times.

It won’t go unnoticed by Harte that Tyrone conceded a goal in similar circumstances against Armagh in the league. On that occassion Niall Grimley fisted home a stoppage-time equaliser after a long delivery by Tony Kernan to snatch a draw with no time left.

This time it was David Givney who tapped home the three-pointer after Ciaran Brady lobbed the ball into his path.

Sure, Niall Sludden missed a couple of chances to land a winner at the death, but Tyrone should have had this game wrapped up long before the finish. They were the better team, slicker up front and created some brilliant goal chances.

To kick 16 scores in such miserable conditions was a good feat, but Tyrone still posted 14 wides and hit several balls into the grateful arms of Raymond Galligan.

The good news for Tyrone: Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Tiernan McCann won’t be as quiet next time out. The bad news: It would have been nice to avoid another energy-sapping run-out in the Ulster championship. Still, a first Ulster final since 2010 is within their grasps and it’s important for their progress that they get there.

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Seamus O'Se and Declan Kyne Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Where do Mayo go from here?

Galway arrived into McHale Park on Saturday night with a gameplan to beat Mayo. Stephen Rochford came with a plan intended to beat Kerry and Dublin.

Rochford rolled out a system with Kevin McLoughlin, one of Mayo’s best scoring forwards, playing as a sweeper and Keith Higgins,  their best man marker, operating on the half-forward line.

They missed the industry and creativity of a fully fit Diarmuid O’Connor around the middle third. Mayo went 19 minutes of the first half without a score and then 21 minutes of the second.

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They were so poor in that opening quarter Galway could have been eight points in front. . Ten minutes before half-time, Mayo ditched the sweeper system and went man-to-man. It worked.

But they reverted back to type after the restart and Galway scored 1-5 without reply in the second-half to take control of the game.

The collective personality of Mayo looked off on Saturday night. Something seemed amiss. Aidan O’Shea was largely anonymous. Watching this Mayo group go 31 minutes without a score from play is not something we’ve been accustomed to.

For a team so used to playing on the front foot, it might just take Mayo some time to come to terms with a more defensive gameplan. The steady run of fixtures the qualifiers will provide might yet galvanise this bunch. Don’t write them off just yet.

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Keith Higgins with Gareth Bradshaw and Declan Kyne Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Galway upset the apple cart in Connacht

After just 18 months in charge of Galway, Kevin Walsh has ended Mayo’s monopoly in Connacht.

Having spent the last 11 weeks carefully planning for Mayo, Walsh must now bring his team back down to earth and prepare for a Connacht final in three weeks’ time.

Galway shocked the All-Ireland finalists of 2012 and 2013 with five debutants, including goalkeeper Bernard Power and corner backs Eoghan Kerin and David Wynne. Twenty-year-old corner forward Eamon Brannigan was also excellent on his debut, scoring three points from play.

Galway’s big players Tomas Flynn, Paul Conroy and Shane Walsh all stood up in the second-half, and they grew with confidence as the game went on. Galway had all the hallmarks of a well-coached side.

They allowed Mayo to go short with kickouts to Kevin Keane, and then swallowed him up as he advanced down the right flank in possession. They wrapped up Mayo’s attacks in a blanket defence, and caused problems at the far end with plenty of diagonal ball into the inside forwards.

Galway-Roscommon will be an intriguing Connacht final and it will be fun to watch Mayo attempt to take the scenic route back to Croke Park. We all know how well it worked out for Kerry seven years ago, but it wasn’t without its fair share of close calls. The back door is a journey journey fraught with danger.

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