For the 10th year in a row, Mayo will contest the Connacht u-21 football final. In the past nine years the JJ Fahy Cup has been presented to a Mayo captain on six occasions and Mayo captain Tom Parsons will be hoping that he becomes the seventh man in a decade to lift the trophy. Mayo have won the competition 22 times already while their opponents on Sunday have yet to claim the title.
Having come through two tough battles against fancied Galway and Roscommon sides in the last two rounds, Mayo will go into the final as favourites over Sligo on Saturday evening. The favourites tag is something that joint Mayo manager Pat Holmes is paying no attention to as he and Noel Connelly go looking for their fourth provincial title on the spin. “It’s all about the 60 minutes in the game and what happens on the field. We’re not underestimating Sligo at all, they are a good side and have home advantage which is always a plus for the team.” After coming through two battling encounters in previous weeks, Holmes was happy that the majority of his side had the weekend off last weekend to prepare for the final. “It was good that most of the lads got a break, (Aidan O’Shea, Tom Parsons, Kevin McLoughlin and Mikey Sweeney were all on duty for the senior side against Galway ), it gave them time to rest and prepare for this weekend’s game. The Roscommon game was one of those very tough exciting football games, where both sides gave everything they had right through to the end of extra time.”
The week break has given players time to get over a number of knocks that were suffered in the semi-final, most notably Cathal Freeman who was forced off early in the contest, Holmes hopes he’ll be fully fit but no decision will be taken until closer to game time. “We’re hoping that Cathal is fit for the game, but we’ll see later in the week how he is.” With the majority of the subs that came on in the semi-final all putting in good showings Mayo have options from the bench, which is something all sides need, according to Holmes. “It’s not just a 15 man game any more, it’s a 20 man game, sometimes you use 15 players, sometimes all five subs, it’s about each man being able to do his job when called on.”
Manning the goal
One man who has been doing his job since he came into the side is goalkeeper Robert Hennelly. The first year DCU student rose to prominence in last year’s minor side which went all the way to the All-Ireland final, and his good form has seen him go straight into the u-21 side and get some game time with the senior team earlier this year. “It’s been a step up from the minor level to u-21 level in terms of the physicality of the game, but it’s something I have really been enjoying this year.” Getting to his second Connacht final in less than a year is a great achievement and the Breaffy shot stopper is concentrating on the game ahead. “We had two tough games against Galway and Roscommon and it will be no different against Sligo on Saturday. We have to be on top form and concentrate right from throw in right until the end.”
Working with the u-21 management team is something that Hennelly has enjoyed so far this year, “You have to give credit to Pat and Noel and the other lads, they know exactly what they want from the team and from you. It’s been great playing under them. We have a good squad where everyone us pushing for the same thing and everyone gives their all. Personally it’s been a great time to be involved in Mayo football, we had a great year with the minors last year and the u-21 team has been great to be involved with also.”