Solan’s men look to bottle Cork’s challenge

Cork U21 football captain Stephen Cronin, right, and Mayo captain Stephen Coen in Croke Park ahead of their teams meeting in the EirGrid GAA Football U21 All-Ireland final 2016. The match will take place on Saturday at 6pm in Cusack Park, Ennis.  Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Cork U21 football captain Stephen Cronin, right, and Mayo captain Stephen Coen in Croke Park ahead of their teams meeting in the EirGrid GAA Football U21 All-Ireland final 2016. The match will take place on Saturday at 6pm in Cusack Park, Ennis. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Ten years ago Mayo met Cork in the All Ireland u21 final in Ennis, and tomorrow afternoon both sides will meet once more in the same venue for the Clarke Cup at stake yet again. Mayo come into the final on the back of their first provincial title since 2009 and a heroic come from behind win late on against Dublin in the semi-final in Tullamore a fortnight ago.

The Rebels since the last meeting in the showpiece occasion at this grade with Mayo have gone on to win twice more in 2007 and 2009, putting them out in front as the most successful county at this grade with 11 titles to their name, while Mayo have four with wins in 1967, 1974 and 1983 to go with their 2006 victory.

Cork manager Séan Hynes has guided his side through comfortable wins over Clare and Waterford in the early stages of the Munster championship before a meeting with the old enemy; Kerry in the provincial decider. That game went right down to the wire with a late, late point from Cian Dorgan sealing the the 3-9 to 1-14 win over the Kingdom in Tralee. In the semi-final against Monaghan the Rebels were involved in another shootout and they sealed their win thanks to goals from senior star Peter Kelleher and Ryan Harkin, which saw them edge the Farney county men on a score of 2-15 to 1-16 in the game that followed up Mayo's win over Dublin in O'Connor Park a fortnight ago.

Cork will pose a serious test to this Mayo side, with full forward Peter Kelleher the stand out attacking name for the Rebels. The Kilmichael has already tasted victory over Mayo after being part of their senior side who beat Mayo in round one of the league and he also hit the net in Croke Park against Dublin in the same competition. Michael Hurley picked up the man of the match award in their semi-final win over Monaghan and the Castlehaven attacker who is the younger brother of Cork senior man Brian Hurley, will be a handful for Mayo.

Speaking ahead of this game, Mayo manager Michael Solan said that he expected to have a clean bill of health going into it, with Mayo full back Seamus Cunniffe who had to come off at the break in their semi-final against Dublin expected to have been given the all clear to take up his positioning in front of Matthew Flanagan in the Mayo goal.

A lot of this game will depend on how the middle sector of the field goes. Mayo's midfield duo of Stephen Coen and Matthew Ruane will need to get on top in this area, while the ability of Shairoze Akram and Michael Hall to pick up breaking balls from the half back line to springboard Mayo attacks will be key.

Of course Diarmuid O'Connor is Mayo's main man, the young Ballintubber man has looked head and shoulders the footballer we have all known he could be in this championship and has been the stand out man. His constant running, willingness to do work and take the right option have got Mayo out of many a tight situation in their three games so far. But it won't all rest on O'Connor's shoulders; Liam Irwin, Conor Loftus, and Fergal Boland are all top quality operators at this level, and Brian Reape and Fionan Duffy won't shirk the challenge either.

It's going to be a tough and enthralling encounter, and Mayo have shown over this year they don't know when to bend the knee even when it looks like the game is gone from them. As the lyrics from the song 'The Boys from The County Mayo' say, "So boys cling together in all kinds of weather, don't show the white feather wherever you go, be like a brother and help one another, like the true hearted men from the County Mayo.' This bunch of players have shown this year they very much live up to those lyrics.

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