Holding forth at the back

GAA: All Ireland SFC Semi Final

Ready to go: Colm Boyle is ready for what comes on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Ready to go: Colm Boyle is ready for what comes on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

He is one of the hardest, toughest, defenders you are likely to come across on the field of play, the kind of guy who puts his head in where it hurts, without consideration for his own wellbeing in the pursuit of victory. His hard hits are legendary, with the shoulder he put in on Damien Comer in last year's Connacht championship meeting between Mayo and Galway being felt right back up to the rafters in the stand in MacHale Park. But when you meet Colm Boyle off the field, he is one of the nicest fellows you could meet. Boyle has become a regular of the Mayo senior team press events and he is always courteous with his time and willing to ask whatever questions are put to him. For a guy who thought six year ago his inter-county career might have been over, he has become one of the backbones of Mayo success over the last half a decade.

"This is what we all train for and play football for, it's to get to Croke Park on a big day, it'll be a sell out, Dublin might have the bigger numbers there, but the Mayo crowd are vital to us and their support is to us, we've no doubt they'll be there roaring us on," said the Davitts man.

Boyle was on the field two years ago when Dublin sneaked by Mayo in the All Ireland final to claim victory, it was a strange game with a painful ending, he explained. "It's a bit of a blur the final stages. For a lot of the game, especially the first half, it was fairly frantic, it was one end to the other, after about 20 or 25 minutes the game kinda came to a standstill and we'd run each other into the ground. Dublin just got a goal before half time that gave them a bit of a lift and we probably should have been a few more points up than we were. I think that Dublin in the third quarter really pushed on that day, they got a goal and went three or four points ahead of us that we could never really get back and get ahead of them."

The feeling of losing when the final whistle blows on the ultimate day is something that Mayo supporters know stings, but to be one of the guys that has put their lives on hold in chasing that dream is something that hurts that bit more. "The dejection of the final whistle going and you know, the disappointment, the raw disappointment, and having to look at Dublin lifting the cup and it's hard to take, but on the day Dublin deserved their victory and did that small bit more than us on the day to nick it and just get there," said Boyle when asked about his memories of the final whistle when the two sides last met in championship action.

Playing his part

But this Sunday, Boyle and his comrades will do it all over again when they go looking to book their third All Ireland final spot in four years. Standing in their way is a Dublin side, brim full of talent and able to hit you from anywhere, something that Boyle will be a key man in trying to stop. "The thing about Dublin is they probably have six, or even eight or nine, forwards who can play in any position on the day, they can line up anywhere and pull you in and out to the corner and switch in and out. You have just got to be prepared to go whereever it takes you, and look, they have scorers from everywhere from the half-back line, even the corner backs and midfield, they can hit you from anywhere."

The Mayo defensive plan worked to a tee against Donegal in the quarter-final, but with Dublin being a very different animal, Boyle knows that they will have to be on top of their game 100 per cent again on Sunday. "The top teams are going to get goal chances, it's about trying to nullify how many they are going to get. A team like Dublin if you give them time and space they are going to hit you for four or five goals, and that's practically what they did to us in the league here in Castlebar, they opened us time and time again and it's something we will have to be wary of, of course. They have so many attacking options and boys coming from everywhere they are very dangerous."

The defensive performance against Donegal was built upon everyone from corner forward back working their socks off to shut down Donegal and a similar effort will be needed again the Davitts' man says. "We'd a few weeks preparation for it [using a sweeper against Donegal], it was something that worked OK on the day, but it was generally more the fact that the boys out field were working so hard, like Seamus O'Shea, Tom Parsons, Jason Doherty, and Diarmuid O'Connor were putting in a lot of tackles out the field slowing up the ball coming up, and I think that had a lot to with the defensive structure working so well."

Everyone has a job to do

Even when things had to be changed around because of injuries, in the Donegal game it did not knock Mayo out of their stride and the strength and depth of the squad really shone through, something of which Boyle is acutely aware. "We've lads that came on the last day, Tom Cunniffe had to go off the last day, and Chris Barrett came on and played a great game, the likes of Paddy Durcan came on and added great legs to defence coming out. All these lads will be needed and we've boys who didn't get on who'll be itching to get there, it'll take 20 or 21 players to finish the job the next day." The strength and depth means even an All Star like himself needs to be on top of their game to make sure they get the nod to start and it pushes everyone on he believes. "Any of the lads can really start now in the backs, which is great, you've lads pushing the whole time, lads like Brendan Harrison, Stephen Coen, and a lot more, the competition is great, it's probably been bigger this year than before for the last two or three years and we need that."

The new management set up has shown that they are not afraid to drop big name players and leaders from the team if it is all for the betterment of the group, but even when that has happened, everyone has rowed in behind the decision and done their all for the cause. Andy Moran who has been the heartbeat of this team for most of the last decade was the man to lose out last time with Barry Moran coming in to do a particular job, but he showed his leadership and class in the way he reacted to the news, Boyle said. "Andy, no matter if he starts or not, he's a huge, huge, player for us on and off the pitch. He took it as good as anyone I've ever seen being dropped for the last day and he was superb leading up to the game and during the game when he came on and did his bit. We feel that no matter who is playing at what time, we all need to lead on the field." Asked if the leadership shown by Moran was a sign of how tight the group are and how single minded they have all become in driving towards their goal, Boyle replied: "Yeah, he was delighted for Barry coming in and he knew Barry was coming in to do a specific role and he'd no problem with it, and that's the joys of having a squad that's united together

It will take everything that Mayo have and maybe something that they did not know they had in them on Sunday to get over Dublin, but they are ready for whatever is thrown at them says the 2006 All Ireland u21 winner. "We're under no illusions, it will take a huge amount of effort from every one of us, it will take 20 or 21 fellas, it's a challenge. We're facing an excellent team. But at semi-final stage you're going to get to a final, you'll have to beat a big boy and they don't come much bigger than Dublin."

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