“Just because you were there last year doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy to get back there again the next year.” Said Mayo minor manager Ray Dempsey earlier this week when speaking to the Mayo Advertiser about his side’s first foray into championship action for 2009. The wily Knockmore man will be taking charge of the Mayo minor side for the third year in a row, the past two years of his tenure have seen wildly contrasting fortunes on the field. 2007 ended almost before it began, eliminated by Roscommon on a forgettable Saturday evening in Hyde Park, followed last year by another so near yet so far story for Mayo football when his side came with in seconds of claiming an All Ireland title.
But as is the nature of an underage grade, getting to an All Ireland final one year doesn’t naturally guarantee a charge towards All Ireland final day the next year, as a new batch of potential future stars come along and try to make a name for themselves and the county. Mayo have only three survivors from the side that started last year’s final, Aidan Walsh, Alex Corduff, and Ciaran Charlton and a couple more who saw action in the championship (John Carney and Keith Rodgers ). So this is almost an entirely new group of players that Dempsey and his back room team are attempting to mould into the shape they desire.
End of the road for losers
This Sunday’s Connacht semi-final against Galway will be it for one of the sides, but Dempsey is confident that his side are more than ready for the road ahead. “We’re happy enough with the way the Connacht League went back in spring. It gave the lads a taste of what it’s like to play football at this level and what it takes to be successful at it. Hopefully it will have driven them all on to improve themselves and their game.”
The fact that the minor dream could be over inside 60 minutes this Sunday is something that Dempsey is not dwelling on or wants his players to dwell on in the lead up to the game. “It is do or die, but it you put so much emphasis on that and the result, you are putting an awful lot of pressure on the lads individually and as a team, and you don’t know what kind of effect that can have on them.”
Getting his side geared up to do what they have to and are capable of doing is something on which Dempsey has placed great emphasis. “You can’t control what will happen to a lad when he goes on the field and how he’ll adapt to the circumstances. So you’ve just got to prepare them as well as you can as for what to expect and get them ready as well as you can to do their best out there.”
No fear of being off the pace
Galway go into the game with a championship game under their belt, and unlike last year where a side would lose a game and then face the winners of another game in the semi-final of the Connacht championship, there are no backdoors at this early stage of the season anymore. But the game that Galway won over Sligo is not something that overly concerns him. “Yah, Galway had a game, but it was a good few weeks ago now. They are a good side and we don’t underestimate them one bit, but we know what we are going to and have to do to make sure we win this game.”
Having a handful of players who have tasted action at the highest level in this grade last year would be seen as a major advantage in some quarters, but it is all about them proving themselves again this year, said Ray. “There are lads there we have which have all had the experience of last season’s run in the championship, but this is a new year and a new team. Just because you got there last year doesn’t mean you will the next, the lads have to use that experience to their advantage and bring them on more again this year.”
And what of the neighbours?
And what of Galway, the young Tribesmen will come into the game after a 1-5 to 0-7 win over Sligo in terrible weather conditions. They are also under the tutelage of the vastly experienced Gary Fahy who has put together a dangerous looking squad. Both sides came together once this year already in a Connacht minor league game, where the tribesmen came out 2-8 to 1-8 winners, but it has been a long few months since then and both sides will be coming into this clash at full pace, where a place in the Connacht final is up for grabs.