Minors one step from final showdown

Up and at it: Ronan Clarke reaches for the ball against Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile

Up and at it: Ronan Clarke reaches for the ball against Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile

It's been a long road from where they started to standing just 60 minutes away from a spot in the All Ireland final for the Mayo minors.

Six games played, six wins and the only provincial title winners still left standing in the competition - but they face potentially their stiffest test yet tomorrow afternoon when they take on Kerry in O'Connor Park in Tullamore.

Each province can run off their minor championships how they see fit and in Munster they do things a little different than most. Kerry and Cork received byes into the semi-final stage where they faced each other.

Kerry saw off Cork with ease on a scoreline of 1-16 to 0-5, but the Rebels got a second bite at the cherry at the semi-final stage - playing Tipperary who had won a round robin competition involving the four other Munster counties and Cork duly dispatched the Premier County seeing them off 3-20 to 1-13 to set up a second clash against Kerry in the Munster final. Amazingly, the Rebels were able to overturn a 14 point beating by Kerry when they met again in the provincial decider to claim the Munster title, winning 3-11 to 0-9.

Kerry shook off that loss at the All Ireland quarter-finals stage to see off Ulster champions Tyrone by a single point in a low scoring encounter, winning that game 0-8 to 1-4 to set up this weekend's game against Mayo.

Sean Deane's side have been one of the most entertaining and enjoyable teams to follow across any football championship this year - they go for it from the get-go and look to attack at every opportunity, while also keeping things tight as possible at the back. Locking the doors back there is something Deane reflected on his side learning to do, as they went into the early rounds of the championship after their Connacht final win over Galway (a side they have beaten twice already this year in the championship, but have still made it to the semi-final stage having beaten Leinster champions Dublin in the quarter-finals ).

Mayo have been pretty much rock solid in their selections of late, with the team really bedding in together and getting used to playing as a unit over the half-a-dozen games they have played to date.

Goalkeeper David Dolan looks like a fine prospect, comfortable on the ball, brave when needed and has a fine long-range free kick in his armoury, which Mayo have called on during the championship already. Full back Jack MacMonagle has been one of the players of the championship so far, commanding and powerful in that line and with a good football head. He's flanked by Rio Mortimer and Lorcan Silke - two fine footballers who look to be well on top of their game. The half back line which is anchored by Colm McHale with Liam Maloney and Paul Gilmore either side of him are archetype modern half-backs, as comfortable at taking the game into their opponents' defensive line as they are in doing what is needed to keep things tight at the back.

In the middle of the park Jack Keane and Luke Feeney are a rock solid combination, but with the likes of Oliver Armstrong who kicked four points off the bench in the quarter final win over Kildare, and Dylan Gallagher, both men who are equally as capable of doing a job from the start - showing the strength of Mayo in this area.

Up front is where Mayo have really caught the eye of observers. Cathal Keaveny, Ronan Clarke and Niall Hurly are as formidable a full forward line as you will see in the game. Hurley will run at defenders at every chance, while Clarke is calm and composed and knows what he's supposed to do when it comes time to light a game up; Keaveny will link the game well and not be found wanting when the moment comes. In the half forward line, Diarmuid Duffy will work all day up and down the field from attack to defence, Dara Hurley made the number 11 spot his during the championship run and his relationship with his twin brother, Niall, in the full forward line, sees the two link up well, while James Mahedy, like Duffy will get stuck into every aspect of the game.

Mayo have plenty of punch from the bench too with the aforementioned Armstrong and Gallagher strong contenders to start games, while Zac Collins has always made in impact whether as a sub or in the games he started in the championship earlier this year - while the likes of Rory Conway, Oisin Cronin, Evan Cosgrove, Conor Kelly and Tom Lydon are all players who will be able to add plenty to Mayo if needed.

It's going to be another tough challenge for Mayo tomorrow, but they've managed overcome every obstacle put in front of them so far this season and this is another they should hurdle.


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