Mayo face stiff test from Monaghan men

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

Passing it off: Ryan O'Donoghue in action against Ryan Wylie when the sides met in the league earlier this year. Photo: Sportsfile.

Passing it off: Ryan O'Donoghue in action against Ryan Wylie when the sides met in the league earlier this year. Photo: Sportsfile.

It's something familiar and yet something new that Mayo face into tomorrow afternoon in Hastings Insurance MacHale Park.

The qualifiers are nothing new for Mayo in the recent history, but this year's rejigging of the championship format ahead of more drastic changes next season has seen the qualifier pool reduced dramatically with just division one and two teams in it.

There's no game against a division three or four side to clear the dirty diesel out of the engine and get things moving again in the right direction after being dumped out of the provincial championship.

It's not just that which is new for Mayo - facing Monaghan in the championship will be also be a new occasion, with neither side having faced each other before in the championship.

There have been plenty of league meetings down the years between the sides, most recently this Spring when Mayo went to Clones and came home with two vital league points in the bag - but tomorrow it's all on the line, no room for error, as for the loser, it's time to fold up the tent and go home for the rest of the year, while for the other, it's on to the the next round and a shot at going for a spot in the All Ireland quarter-finals.

Mayo have been sitting around the edges of the championship since their defeat at the hands of Galway for the past six weeks and over that time period, James Horan and his charges will have had plenty of time to work on their game and try and reach the levels they know they are capable of.

Monaghan dispatched Down with ease in the quarter-finals of the Ulster championship and were knocked out of that competition by eventual winners Derry at the semi-final stage - in a game where they found themselves 1-2 to 0-0 down early doors but battled back and will feel they had chances to win that game and march into the final.

But it was in the qualifier pot they found themselves when the draw was made a few weeks ago and they will come calling to Castlebar on Saturday afternoon looking to end Mayo's summer before the holiday season kicks into gear.

Monaghan will be looking to the likes of Conor McManus, Jack McCarron, Gary Mohan and Michael Brannigan to give the Mayo rearguard a serious examination of their abilities. The Ulster side's attack have the potential to cause serious damage to Mayo, so the likes of Lee Keegan, Padraig O'Hora, Paddy Durcan, Oisin Mullin and Stephen Coen will have to be top of their game.

At the back for Monaghan, Rory Beggan is one of the top keepers in the game and his long range free-taking could be a key factor come crunch time. He's also fond of pushing out the field and getting involved in the play and if he does so on Saturday and Mayo can force a turnover, they will have to take advantage on the scoreboard.

Conor Boyle, Ryan Wylie, Darren Hughes, Dessie Ward and Conor McCarthy are all top quality operators too and while it has been a good few years since Monaghan claimed the Ulster title, they have been a consistent division one side in the league and team with the ability to go deep in the championship.

For Mayo, they will be hoping that Ryan O'Donoghue is able to get over the knock he picked up since the Galway game that has seen him not able to take a full part in all training sessions over the past few weeks and that the break has given Cillian O'Connor more time to get back to the level he is capable of since his return from serious injury.

Mayo have been here before and seen it all before and they will be looking to have everything lined up to have another crack at going for an All Ireland title - it's not going to be easy for Mayo, but then when have things ever really been easy for them?

 

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