Often the best game on All-Ireland final Sunday is the minor contest, rather than the senior joust. Last year was no exception and Mayo and Tyrone played out a real thriller in Croke Park that had to go to a replay before Tyrone just about collected the silverware.
Twelve months later, Mayo with Ray Dempsey still in charge, are back in the decider this weekend when they face a fancied Armagh outfit. Mayo have not won the All-Ireland minor football final for 24 years, back in 1985, and amazingly they have lost five All-Ireland minor finals since that triumph.
That kind of heartbreak would make you wonder what has a county done to anger the foot-balling gods.
Again this Sunday Mayo will be right up against it as they face the hot favourites, Armagh who are installed as 8/13 favourites, with Mayo quoted as 13/8 outsiders. That said, Mayo enter the contest with real experience from last year and a good run of form behind them.
I have watched this Mayo team three times in championship action this season and they have some very fine players and a terrific work-rate and team unity. They have a good bench too and that can be vital in a final. They looked in real trouble against Down at half-time in the All-Ireland semi-final, however a few astute substitutions and a vastly improved second half saw them win at their ease.
I have been very impressed by Castlebar’s Aidan Walsh who lined out at midfield against Down, however he is equally impressive when in the full-forward position. Walsh is team captain and he is a very fine free taker. He has a good engine for getting around the field and the pain of last year’s defeat will help to drive him on. For Mayo to win, Walsh will have to be in top form.
Corner forward Cillian O’Connor struck two terrific goals in the semi-final and should be full of confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash. He too may need to repeat those heroics if Mayo are to parade the cup in the square in Castlebar on Monday evening. Their man of the match against Down was goalkeeper Michael Schlingermann who plays his club football with Kiltimagh, but with a name like that, he has strong German connections. Schlingermann gave a wonderful display the last day out and he is likely to be called upon to display his wares regularly this Sunday too.
The Armagh full-forward line is very highly rated and the Mayo full-back line is likely to be well stretched in their defensive duties. Mayo had a few injury worries coming into this tie but thankfully Ray Dempsey had a full hand to pick from and Keith Rodgers and Caolan Crowe are both selected at full-back and wing-back respectively. After losing five All-Ireland minor finals since their last win, few would begrudge Mayo their day in the sun.
Apart from Armagh, that is, who are appearing in their first final since 1992. They have not won the Tom Markham Cup since 1949 and 60 years later they will be eager to change that statistic and based on their display against Kerry in the semi-final they will be exceedingly difficult to beat. Unless Ray Dempsey’s men play to their top potential and start a lot better than they did against Down, it could well be, six contested and zero successes by Sunday evening. We wish them well and no more than Roscommon footballers in 2006 and Galway footballers in 2007 who both won the All-Ireland minor title, it is great to see under-age success in the province and hopefully Mayo can do the business on Sunday.
The Big Joe era has been launched south of the border
There was a real sense of razzmatazz and Broadway’s bright lights last Sunday in Tuam stadium for the official introduction of Joe Kernan to the Galway public. Joe was led out like a show horse stallion between the two county semi-finals last weekend and asked a few questions in a picture more readily associated with a big premiership signing rather than an inter-county appointment.
Speaking to him after the first game, he seemed extremely relaxed and eager to get going. As he said himself, “I am delighted to have today over and the formalities finished with and get down to work. I am happiest on the training field and on match days and hopefully my time with Galway will be both productive and successful. I hope to have my backroom team in place in the next few weeks and then get down to the serious job in hand.”