With the senior side bowing out of the championship in Croke Park last weekend, Ray Dempsey’s minor side will be looking to build on their Connacht championship win over Roscommon when they take on Monaghan on Saturday in Longford in the All Ireland quarter-final. Dempsey was able to mastermind Mayo’s first Connacht minor title in seven years thanks to a narrow win over a battling Roscommon side in Castlebar back in July and this Sunday’s game against the runners up in the Ulster Championship could send Mayo back to Croke Park. While they rode their luck at times in the Connacht final especially in the first half when Roscommon kicked themselves out of the game with some poor shooting, Mayo never let their opponents superiority on the field during the opening half get to them and kept plugging away before they took off on in the second half. Dempsey knows it’s going to be a big ask on Saturday and there is a lot of pressure on his side. “It’s nice to be here but as each game goes by the pressure builds up on you and your team. But this is where we want to be and that’s what comes with it.”
With a month between this game and the Connacht final, it should have offered Dempsey the perfect opprtunity to work with his side without hindrance, but club commitments have hampered some of the preparations. “There are a lot of club commitments for the lads this time of year also we have to work around. They all have minor games and U21 games for their clubs while most of them are all involved in either the junior, intermediate and senior club championship with their clubs also. But we’ve worked hard over the last few weeks and the lads haven’t been found wanting. You’re always looking to improve your game all the time and that’s what we’ve been working on.” Winning the Connacht title was a great achievment for Dempsey but there is plenty time for looking back later in the year, it’s all about this weekends game for the manager. “It was great winning the Connacht final, trophies aren’t handed out for nothing, but we’re now here to have a crack at the All Ireland series and I’d be very disappointed if any of the lads were happy with just a Connacht medal and not give this a real crack.”
Solid defence to build on
Mayo’s displays this year have highlighted their defence as one of the key factors in their success. Robert Hennelly has been in great form for them in goal, winning the man of the match award in the Connacht final along with saving a penalty. He has been solid under the high ball, has a very good kick out and has proven in both club and county action to be an excellent shot stopper. Kevin Keane from Westport was given a tough time in the opening half of the Connacht final, but the no nonence full back got to grips with his man in the second half and put in a fine display. The Mayo half back line has been in superb form all season with wing backs Cathal Freeman and team captain Shane Nalley both standing out in their championship clashes this season. They have both been solid in their defensive duties and outstanding in their attacking play going forward.
The midfield pairing of James Cafferty from Crossmolina and Ballina’s Alex Corduff have started to form a solid partnership and with both underage again next year they have a good base to build on. Aidan O’Shea has lined out at the marquee foward position of centre half foward and a lot is expected of him in this side going on his performances in the senior club championship for Breaffy. While he didn’t have his best game in the Connacht final he has the ability to light up any game and has been brought into the midfield battle when needed to give assitance.
The full forwad line of Ray Geraghty, Aidan Walsh and Daniel O’Hara has been one of the most settled lines in the Mayo team this year. Like many of their colleagues they didn’t have the best game in the Connacht final but are proven socrers and Walsh’s free taking in the earlier rounds of the Connacht campagin was second to none.
Opponents are no push over
At minor level the Ulster championship has been one of the toughest around for many years, this weekend’s opponet’s were unlucky to lose by three points to a very fancied Tyrone side in the Ulster final in Clones. Aaron McCarey, Mark Connolly and Kieran Hughes have been singled out as talents that will need to be watched. While goalkeeper Emmett McCardle was another who came in for praise after their narrow Ulster final defeat. Dempsey knows that his side are really going to have to put in a performance on Saturday to come out on top. “It’s a very tough challenge and we know if we don’t work hard for the whole contest we’ll struggle to beat them, they are a very good side and we have talked about that at training.”