Once again this season, Mayo are the last Connacht team standing in the All-Ireland football championship and their dedicated band of supporters will be hopeful that their team will beat Down this Saturday (5pm in Croke Park and live on RTÉ ), and set up an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with either Dublin or Laois.
The Mayo team was due to be announced yesterday (Wednesday ) and the view in the county was that 22-year-old Aidan O’Shea would be selected alongside Barry Moran at midfield.
The Breaffy man has not started a game for his county in more than three months but he lined out alongside Barry Moran at centre-field in a trial game last Sunday and is expected to get a starting jersey for Saturday’s clash, after making a big contribution on his introduction in the Connacht final win over Sligo.
James Horan had his panel in Limerick last weekend for a ‘mini’ training camp and the mood is very positive in the panel ahead of their trip to Dublin this weekend.
If O’ Shea is able to play a full 70 minutes and combines well with Barry Moran around the middle third it will be a big boost to their side’s chances of advancing as it should ensure a good supply for the likes of team captain Andy Moran, Kevin McLoughlin, Alan Dillon and Cillian O’Connor up front.
Their opponents Down were comprehensively beaten (2-18 to 0-13 ) in the Ulster final two weeks ago by Donegal, but James McCartan’s side became only the second team since Dublin in 2001, to escape the six-day losing provincial finalists’ hoodoo, to beat Tipperary in Mullingar last weekend by five points.
They had very good displays from full back Dan Gordon, Ambrose Rodgers and Mark Poland who both shot three points from play, and veteran Benny Coulter who notched 1-2.
Down have a major injury doubt over 2010 All-star Danny Hughes, and his absence would be a boost to Mayo’s chances of reaching the last four for the second year in a row.
In late July last year at this juncture, Mayo shocked most pundits by defeating the reigning All-Ireland champions Cork on a score-line of 1-13 to 2-6. That was a terrific display and if they can reproduce that kind of performance this Saturday they are well capable of defeating the Ulstermen.
Mayo are strong favourites to advance and are 4/7 in the bookmakers. The other three quarter-finals are also on this weekend in headquarters and I would expect Dublin to defeat Laois and Cork to beat Kildare.
Calling the winner between Donegal and Kerry is very difficult, however I give the Ulster champions a great chance. They have only conceded one goal since Jim McGuinness took over as manager and if they can continue that terrific defensive record, they should be a step closer to winning the Sam Maguire for the first time since 1992.