While Mayo head into Sunday's Connacht final as favourites, joint Mayo manager Noel Connelly is not taking anything for granted and he is very keenly aware that Sligo will pose a serious threat to his side's ambitions of claiming a 46th Connacht title. Sligo's performance against Roscommon and particularly that of their inside forwards impressed the Hollymount-Carramore clubman. "They were the underdogs, Roscommon were the hot favourites after winning the division two league final. Sligo had won three and lost three in division three, but they were the highest scoring county team in all the leagues, also they used very few players outside the 17 or 18, so they are a very settled team, a very young team, and they played with great belief and no fear, and led from the off. Nobody could say they weren't deserving winners," he said.
Paying particular attention to the Yeats County's full-forward line he continued: "Sligo have a very potent full forward line and they play a direct style of football, they had seven or eight wides to go with what the scored. They played very well and will be very, very, difficult to beat." He also added their defence was very impressive in the way they went about their business. "The full back line played very well. They didn't let Roscommon get into the game, from the off they led, they were very tenacious in their defending. They didn't give the Roscommon forwards a chance and didn't let them get into the game or develop a pattern. The full back line was good, they bring back their wing forwards and play a bit defensive and then play it rough into the full forward line so that's where their main danger line is."
Defending the defence
Responding to columns written by both Joe Brolly and Jim McGuinness in the aftermath of Mayo's win over Donegal, Connelly said that the criticisms of the way Mayo's defensive style of play stacks up against other teams was not something to which they paid much attention. "Every team now on from provincial stage will be defensive, every team is trying to protect their full back line. Donegal, and they have a good full back line, still get 12 players behind the ball. Do you resort to that kind of tactic or do you maybe go half the way? I'd be lying if I said we're not looking at being more defensive, but I wouldn't really buy into what Joe Brolly and Jim McGuinness are saying."
As for going for Connacht titles in a row being something that is weighing on their minds, Connelly said it could not be further from their minds. "It's not even discussed, it's out there in the public domain but it hasn't been mentioned once in the dressing room, it's another game, it's the next step, it's all about how you perform on the day and getting the balance and performance right. If you do that any week you have to be happy with that and if it gives us the victory then so be it. I don't know how long since it was done, this group have come along together, they have been together the last few years, and have been a very successful bunch and are a very motivated bunch. But you know it'll come to an end at some stage, like Westmeath beating Meath, it will come to an end, but we're hoping it won't be Sunday. It'll be a great achievement for the lads involved in all five if they do win on Sunday week, but we're not looking at five in a row being a major thing, we're just looking to perform on the day and we get the right result."
All change from playing days
Connelly and Pat Holmes are now nine months or so into their first year in charge of the senior side, and when asked how he was finding it compared to being involved as a player back in the 90s, he said: "It's a world away, back in the 90s John Maughan had two selectors and a rub guy there, that was it, and you had a doctor on match day. Now you could say you have up to 20 people involved, between strength and conditioning, dieticians, nutritionists and that's where it's at. To compete with the better teams in the country, that's where you have to be. In fairness to the county board these services cost a lot of money and they have given us their full backing, and anything we asked for we have got. It's gelling well, but it's taken a while for everything to blend into a new system, but everyone is getting there, and there's a good camaraderie on the field, and please God it will show on the field on Sunday. Nothing took us by surprise, but back in our day it was three nights a week, now it's five nights out of the seven between gym sessions and pitch sessions, it takes its toll. Then it's a couple of hours each evening organising things and planning the weeks and months ahead. It's time consuming but nothing we didn't know."