The thing about the minor grade is that it’s over for the players at this level nearly as soon as it starts, most players get one year at this level, the lucky ones get two. It doesn’t really allow for rivalries to build up over the years outside the natural provincial domain so going into Sunday’s All Ireland final the only rivalry to be sorted out on the field will be who want’s it more.
These sides have met before in the championship and in 2005, where a Mayo side who had lost out to Galway in the Connacht final by a point went on to see off the then Ulster champions by a single point in an All Ireland quarter final in Hyde Park on their way to the 2005 All Ireland final. That Mayo side was backboned by the likes of Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett, Tom Cunniffe, Pierce Hanley, and Shane Nallen who have all gone on to play senior football with Mayo. They even lined out that day without their two first choice midfielders, Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons.
But back to the present and this weekend’s challenge, Armagh have played five games, like Mayo, to get to this stage, seeing off Tyrone by five points in the Ulster quarter final, then Monaghan by six in the Ulster semi final. They squared up against Down who Mayo beat in the All Ireland semi final three weeks ago and three points was the difference between the sides. In the All Ireland quarter final Paul McShane’s side sent beaten Leinster finalists packing with a 2-14 to 2-8 win, and in the All Ireland semi-final they overturned a half time deficit to beat Kerry by six, thanks to two second half goals from Gavin McParland.
Who to watch
McParland looks to be the main goal threat for the Orchard county, he has bagged four goals for his side in this year’s championship, contributing 4-8 of his side’s total of 9-54 over their five games. He will need watching by the Mayo defence if they are going to have a chance on Sunday. He’s a powerful runner who likes to cut in from the wing before shooting.
Another player Mayo will have to keep close watch on is forward Robbie Tasker who will be a real handful for whoever Ray Dempsey deploys on him, he likes to take on defenders and beat them and is a very good distributor of the ball with his foot.
While Cillian O’Connor has been getting good reviews for his performance in the full forward line this year so has Eugene McVerry, who has bagged 1-18 so far in the championship. The Mullaghbawn man has been in great scoring form and will have to be watched from the off on Sunday.
Armagh full back Ronan Finnegan has been performing well and has shown he has the ability to win plenty of ball when dropped in front of him. He has been solid in the Armagh defence all year, who will start the game in on top of him remains to be seen as we know Ray Dempsey is not afraid to switch his side around from the announced starting positions of his first 15.
Armagh looking to bridge a long gap
Armagh have not won an All Ireland minor title since 1949, a gap of 60 years they will be looking to erase on Sunday, and for a side whose seniors have been one of the top four teams over the last decade their lack of success at minor level over the past number of years is something of a puzzle. They last appeared in the All Ireland minor final in 1992 where they lost out to Meath by a late goal whereas Mayo have contested minor finals in 2008, 2005, 1999, and 2000 since then as they look to bridge their own gap of 24 years since they last claimed the All Ireland minor title.