The Mayo u20's take centre stage when they take on Kildare in the All-Ireland final this Sunday in Croke Park. It represents a big opportunity for Michael Solan's men to showcase their undoubted talent on the big stage along with the not so small matter of potentially becoming the very first All-Ireland u20 champions.
Kildare are firm favourites at 8/15, based a lot on the fact that they defeated Kerry in the semi final on a scoreline of 1-14 to 1-13 and given the fact that Kerry were fancied by many to win the title, Mayo are 15/8. Those odds will mean nothing by 1.15 on Sunday afternoon.
We must also factor in that Kerry of course were forced to line out without stars David Clifford and Sean O'Shea because they played senior football for Kerry this year and therefore can't play for the Kerry u20's, a rule that irks me no end. Basically Clifford and O'Shea will never play u20 football for Kerry. No player should be deprived of representing their county in championship football because they are good at what they do. The only positive I'll take out of it is that Mayo have a real chance against Kildare on Sunday. Had Clifford and O'Shea lined out for the Kerry u20's the Kingdom would be unbeatable.
Kildare have been impressive in their run to the final, having survived the concession of four goals against Laois in the Leinster championship to scrape home by two points. They were very dominant against Dublin in the Leinster final winning comfortably by 1-15 to 0-10. Their work rate against Kerry in the semi-final was there for all to see, they were ravenous in the tackle. No question their star man is corner forward Jimmy Hyland and how Michael Solan and Mayo handle him will ultimately decide the game.
He scores heavily in pretty much every game he plays. He scored 1-06 against Laois and an impressive 0-8 against the Dubs but he saved his best this year for the semi final against Kerry where he notched 1-8 in yet another man of the match performance. He gets man of the match in nearly every game he plays. Get to grips with Hyland and you beat Kildare.
Most of Hyland's scores come from play too so if Johnny Maughan is given the job on Sunday I'm sure he will be ably assisted by a team mate or two. Jordan Flynn and Evan O'Brien will have a huge say in trying to starve Hyland and centre forward Padraig Nash of the ball. Their contest with Adam Masterson at midfield will be intriguing.
I have full faith in Michael Solan getting things right on the line and with Mayo possessing some fine athletes who will cherish the open expanses of Croke Park, I believe that the result will go our way. Good luck to whatever Kildare players have to keep tabs on Oisin McLoughlin and Paul Lambert. It will be a sight to behold if we get to see Ryan O'Donoghue walk the steps of the Hogan stand to lift the inaugural u20 cup. It will give us all a lift for 2019. It won't be easy but it's very doable.
A weekend to remember
Just when we thought the hurling championship couldn't get any better we were served two of the most enthralling, nail-biting semi-finals we are likely to see. Galway, Clare, Cork and Limerick deserve huge credit for the entertainment factor alone. As a neutral I found myself breathless and shouting at the TV for both games.
I can only imagine what it was like for any supporter of the four counties involved. Then again us Mayo folk have been through the ringer and know exactly what they were going through. I have to say I'm very envious of how exciting the hurling championship has been this year. From a commentating view point, there is no comparison with compulsive exciting action every 10 seconds in the hurling compared to the long passages of sideways and backwards passing in football.
Dead rubbers and everything on the line in the final round of elite eights
Lets hope this weekend the final round of the Super 8's restores our faith in our preferred choice of GAA sports. All the games have something on the line except for the Dublin and Roscommon game. It will be interesting to see what sort of support makes its way to Croke Park for their game with neither team having anything to play for.
The GAA are lucky they have the u20 final there to help boost the crowd. I expect hair and skin to fly in Ballybofey between Donegal and Tyrone where it's a winner takes all and makes the semi final scenario. Monaghan are playing for their lives in Salthill after blowing their game against Kerry in round two.
Galway on the other hand know they must avoid defeat against the Farney to be paired against either Donegal or Tyrone in the semi final. The big carrot for the Tribesmen is of course to avoid the Dubs' in the semi final and win or draw against Monaghan.
Kerry know they must beat Kildare in Killarney and hope Galway can do them a favour in Salthill. I don't envisage as much excitement as the hurling but I live in hope. Kerry and Donegal to join Galway and Dublin in the semi's for me.