Mayo may well be the bookies’ favourites to win Sunday’s All Ireland semi-final clash against Down, but the favourites’ tag is something that Ray Dempsey has never paid much heed to as an inter county player and as an inter county manager since he took the reins of the Mayo minor side in 2008. The Knockmore man who brought last year’s batch of minors to within seconds of claiming Mayo’s first All Ireland minor title since 1985 last year, is once again only 60 minutes away from the last Sunday in September and an All Ireland final day out in front of a packed Croke Park.
Standing in his side’s way this is a Down side, who got over a bout of swine flu a few weeks ago to see off the Leinster Champions, Dublin, thanks to an injury time Niall McPartland goal, to win by 2-16 to 2-14 in their All Ireland quarter final. Down who lost out in the Ulster final to Armagh (who booked their place in the All Ireland final with a win over Kerry last Sunday ) by three points will pose a very tough examination for the 2009 class of Mayo minors’ credentials.
The Mourne county stood in Mayo’s way on a few occasions over the past decade in the minor championship, as recently as 2005 when they beat a Mayo side then managed by Eugene Ivers in the All Ireland final by 1-15 to 0-8. And wearing the banisteoir’s bib that day was former Down senior player Mark Turley who will be on the sideline again on Sunday keeping watch over the next generation of his county men. This will be the second underage All Ireland semi-final the two counties will have lined up against each other in this year, with Pete McGrath’s Down u21 side seeing off Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly’s Mayo side in blistering style back in the spring.