If winning is a habit, then the habit that Mayo have picked up in the u21 grade since Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly took over is one that every Mayo side should look at picking up. Four years, four Connacht titles and one All Ireland and maybe another on the way. After seeing off very good Galway and Roscommon sides, before beating Sligo by ten points in the Connacht final, there is no reason why Mayo wouldn't be considered as serious title challengers. After their previous two games against the perceived better sides in Connacht, Saturday's Connacht final was always going to be a tough examination for Mayo to ensure that they didn't fall into the trap of complacency, thinking they had the hard work done already. That trap was avoided with flying colour's, even at the death, with the win in the bag Mayo kept up the pressure and when Conor Jordan dropped a long ball into the danger zone Michael Sweeney chased after it to meet the ball before Conor O'Mahony in the Sligo goal and punch it to the back of the net. It was that kind of effort right at the end that optimized Mayo throughout the contest. Aidan O'Shea picked up the official man of the match award, but he was joined by a number of other players on his side who stood up to be counted when needed on Saturday evening. Kevin McLoughlin was supreme throughout, along with Jason Doherty, Kevin Keane, Neill Douglas and Cathal Carolan who all put in a good hours work.
The Ulster champions await on Saturday April 18 in Longford for this Mayo side, ten of whom started in the Connacht final will be under age again next year and three of whom are still in secondary school as the management's philosophy of getting the best players on the field no matter how old they are reaped rewards once again.
Goals win games, and Mayo's second goal was the killer in this game, going in at the break six points clear thanks to a Jason Doherty goal four minutes before the end had Mayo in pole position. But the terminal blow to the Yeats county challenge came only two minutes into the second half, when Aidan O'Shea picked the ball up on the left flank and
made a break towards the Sligo goal, Jason Doherty who has impressed in all three games in this years championship so far pulled out to create room for O'Shea. The Breaffy man played a neat one-two with Doherty before he drifted the ball across the danger area into the outstretched arms of Neill Douglas who created enough room for himself to get a shot off and place the ball low to the left corner of the net and and put Mayo 2-10 to 1-4 up and kill off the game as a contest. And it was a contest before that goal, Mayo held the advantage on the scoreboard and in the possession stakes, but Sligo looked dangerous when they attacked with Stephen Coen and Gary Gaughan in particular looking dangerous when the got on the ball. Coen had two different men put on him in the first half until Eoghan O'Reilly on last years minor players was given the task of shackling the St Mary's man. Mayo led by 0-5 to 0-3 after the opening ten minutes with Douglas, Tom Parsons, O'Shea, Sweeney and Doherty sharing the scores out between them with Coen leading the line in reply for Sligo and by 18 minutes into the half Mayo were five clear with more points from Doherty, Douglas and McLoughlin looking to have Mayo cruising. But the gap was cut to two when the first goal of the game arrived. Stephen Coen came out field and collected the ball beat two men and played in Gary Gaughan who made a break for goal only to be unceremoniously upended illegally by the Mayo defense inside the large square. Coen took on the responsibility of the spot kick and sent it low to the left corner and Robert Hennelly in the Mayo goal to the right hand side. Sligo were back in it, but Mayo weren't going to let them back into the game like they had previously done with Galway and Roscommon. Jason Doherty hit back in style, after Aidan O'Shea played a lovely chipped ball into his path before the Burrishoole man cut across the line from left to right creating the angle for himself to arc the ball over the bar. Then seven minutes before the turn around, Mayo bagged their own first goal of the game. O'Shea won the ball and played in Doherty 25 yards out, the corner forward made a beeline for the Sligo goal and despite loosing it once under a challenge managed to regain the size five before steering it to the back of the net. The scoring was rounded off in the half with the score of the half, a Sligo 45' dropped dangerously six yards in front of the Mayo goal, Tom Parsons rose to claim the ball and set off a move that saw Brian Gallagher collect it on his own 45 and play a perfect ball in front of Cathal Carolan who grabbed it and set off at speed towards goal, the Crossmolina man left his marker in his wake allowing the field to open up in front of him and he stroked a wonder point over from 40 yards out on the run.
Mayo's second goal killed off the game as a contest in the second half, but Mayo kept up the work-rate hassling and harrying their opponents in every area of the field, as the play became more broken and the game started to die out. Doherty added a point for Mayo in bizarre circumstances when Neill Douglas was tripped by his own man 35 yards out from goal, but the referee thought it was a Sligo player and gave Mayo a free in. Brian Gallagher hit a nice point from distance as he grew more into the game as it went on following a shaky start and on 14 minutes Doherty kept his own scoring average up following some a good interception and a little chip pick up on the run by McLoughlin. Sligo kept battling away and were rewarded with a trio of points from Eoin McHugh but were too far back to make a serious challenge to Mayo's dominance. Mayo's last minor of the game rivaled if not bettered Carolan's earlier effort if for the score of the day Kevin McLoughlin won the ball and played it to his captain Tom Parsons who in-turn played a one two with Lee Keegan before driving over a great score on the run with 21 minutes gone.
All in all a good day's work at the office for Mayo, and as captain Tom Parsons said at the end of his speech “let's hopefully go on now and do what we really want to do and win an All Ireland title.”
Mayo: Jason Doherty (1-5, 3f ), Neill Douglas (1-2 ), Michael Sweeney (1-1 ), Tom Parsons (0-2 ), Brian Gallagher (0-1 ), Aidan O'Shea (0-1 ), Kevin McLoughlin (0-1 )
Sligo: Stephen Coen (1-4, 2f ), Eoin McHugh (0-3, 2f ), Stephen Kilcoyne (0-1 )
Mayo: Robert Hennelly; Eoghan O'Reilly, Kevin Keane, John Broderick; Donal Vaughan, Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin; Tom Parsons Aidan O'Shea; Cathal Carolan, Frank Burke, Brian Gallagher; Michael Sweeney, Neill Douglas, Jason Doherty. Subs: Sean Prendergast for Broderick (26 mins ), Conor Jordan for Neill Douglas (53 mins ), Niall Prenty for Frank Burke (54 mins ), Jason Gibbons for Cathal Carolan.
Sligo: Conor O'Mahony; Conor Davey, Noel Gaughan, Neil Ewing; Brian Murphy, Patrick Greene, Gavin Gilsenan; Stephen Henry, Stephen Gilmartin; Gary Gaughan, Conor Brady, Keelan Cawley; Stephen Coen, Eoin McHugh, Stephen Kilcoyne. Subs: Michael Hanley for Stephen Henry (30 mins ), James Hynes for Conor Brady (42 mins ), Alan Dunne for Stephen Kilcoyne (46 mins ), Cormac Coyne for Michael Hanley (59 mins ), Michael Hanley for James Hynes (61 ).
Ref: R. MacBrien (Leitrim )