And then there were 12, we’re just under three weeks out from the Connacht Final and a dozen sides are left in with a shout. While Armagh, Dublin, Cork and Galway are given another week to ready themselves for the elite eight phase of the competition, tomorrow (August 2 ) sees Mayo back in action. All eyes were on the draw drum on Sunday evening to see who would Mayo get of the quadruplet of sides who managed to make it through the previous two rounds of action. Each of the potential adversaries had there own pitfalls, Down a side who seemed to be on the up this year with Ross Carr moulding a side, Kildare who bombed so famously against Micko’s Wicklow in the long grass of early summer, but Kieran McGeeney is a man used to getting things done and has picked them up. Monaghan the new darlings of the football world with boundless enthusiasm and with Banty McEnneany patrolling the sideline and celebrating wildly at final whistles. But it wasn’t to be any of that trio, Tyrone were pulled from the hat and they pose their own series of questions that will have to be answered.
Four years from a memorable day
If we were to rewind to the last time these sides met in the championship four years ago at the quarter final stage, when Tyrone were the All Ireland champions but still rattled from the tragic death of Comrac McAnallen, Mayo were a settled side under the guidance of our columnist John Maughan and the team from one to 15, picked it self. That year Mayo had the luxury of having three games under their belts all be it one away to New York, but they still had to come back home and see off Galway and Roscommon in the Connacht Championship and were flying. It was one of the most memorable displays by a Mayo side in Croke Park that day and John Maughan still remembers it fondly. “My over-riding direct memory of that day was arriving in Croke Park and being totally confident in our own abilities. We had our homework on that Tyrone side very well done. We obviously targeted Brian Dooher as a key man to stop making his probing runs forward and wanted to force him back into defending and Peadar Gardiner did a great job on him that day. Sean Cavanagh was another one that day who had to be stopped and Ronan McGarrity was fantastic against him, it was a real landmark day for Ronan putting himself on the map.”
Peaking at the right time
Mayo went into that game in great form after storming through Connacht with ease and playing some great football-everything was clicking right for Mayo and it culminated in that 70-minute performance. “We were on a real high going into that game, we had been fantastic in the Connacht championship and feared nothing at all. In reality we probably peaked that day, as our performances showed after it. But this is not an exact science and you have to be on top form against the All Ireland champions,” remembers Maughan. As for tomorrows clash, there is nothing to fear for Mayo, according to the man who brought the county to three All Ireland finals in two spells in charge of the side. “There are still a lot of familiar names on both sides since then and in the couple of years after, you have to ask the question have the sides pushed on since then. I think that this Tyrone side aren’t of the same standard as 2003 and 2005 when they won their All Irelands, there are still some big names there but they’re not playing as well as they did then. Last weekend’s game against Westmeath they came through, but were lucky because Westmeath were down to 13 men and even still had Dessie Dolan scored that goal late on they could have won it. There is nothing for Mayo to fear going into this game and we have enough to win on Saturday.”
Not the first famous victory
This will not be John O’Mahony’s first meeting with the men from O’Neill county in headquarters with Mayo. Just under 19 years ago both sides met in the All Ireland semi-final with Mayo going in as rank underdogs against a Tyrone side that had in many peoples minds been robbed by Kerry a couple of years earlier in an All Ireland final. Mayo made their way through the Connacht championship seeing off Roscommon with the help of a replay, which saw Eugene Lavin (a sub, but still vice captain ) lift the Nestor Cup with captain Jimmy Browne forced off injured, and sent Mayo on their way to Croke Park. Mayo hadn’t made it to the promised land of the All Ireland final since 1951 and Sean Flanagan was the last man to bring the famous old trophy into this county. On August 14 1989 O’Mahony strode the sideline and guided Mayo to a 0-12 to 1-6 win and sent the county into overdrive. Michael Fitzmaurice was the top scorer for Mayo that day landing six points (five from placed balls ). Others chipped in too with Dermot Flanagan, Sean Mahar, Liam McHale, Noel Durcan, Kevin McStay and Brian Kilkelly all chipping in with a point each. While the image of Willie Joe Padden’s jersey covered in blood with one side of its collar bright red and the other side still pristine white, combined with his famous headgear, is still one of the most potent images in Mayo football to this day.