Twelve months on and Ray Dempsey and his management team and only a handful of their side from last year are back in an All Ireland final and are once again going in as underdogs against the Ulster champions. But that tag won’t faze either the management team or the players who are sent out onto the field in an attempt to claim the ultimate prize in this grade. Over the season the Mayo minors have adapted to many challenges through the Connacht championship and the All Ireland series and any time a question has been asked of them they have found the answer. Starting off against Galway in Sligo as underdogs, Mayo gave a tour de force in the second half blowing Galway off the pitch and sending them into the Connacht final as favourites. A tag that did not rest well on them, and they struggled against a very physical Roscommon side and were lucky to get a second bite at the cherry, but they learned their lesson from that game in Salthill and despite having to go to Hyde Park for the replay, they were able to up their game and change it around enough to see off Roscommon with ease in the end.
Getting there bit by bit
In the All Ireland quarter final it was a matter of doing a job in seeing off Tipperary in Tullamore which they did with aplomb, scoring three goals and limiting the Munster men to only scoring a goal from play and not even hitting a single point from play. Everyone on the Mayo side put in a very good 60 minutes setting up their All Ireland semi-final with Down. A game where Mayo had to survive a very tough first half, where the defence was under serious pressure before the management team were able to make a few personnel and positional switches, and which saw Mayo take the game to Down and start to win the ball and take control of the game, delivering more direct ball which led to the two Mayo goals. Also in their favour was Down’s decision to go for goals rather than points, when they had plenty of time left on the clock to close the gap and they came up against a man in form in the shape of Michael Schlingermann. The young Kiltimagh man showed his worth with a number of fantastic saves to ensure that Mayo made their way to their second All Ireland final in a row.
Getting to two finals in a row is a great achievement and even most neutrals would think that Mayo deserve to finally win an All Ireland title in Croke Park. The county has a side in either the minor or senior final for the ninth time (96, 97, 04, 06 senior and 99, 00, 05, 08, 09 ) in 13 years and has failed to come home with either the Tom Markham Cup or the most sought after Sam Maguire. But deserve and sentiment is not something Ray Dempsey has put much stock in since he took charge of the Mayo minors three years ago. It has been about hard work and being willing to give everything you have for the green and red jersey once they cross the white line into action. The Knockmore man and his backroom side of Tomás O’Grady, Kevin Beirne, and Stephen Healy will have the need to give your all well drilled into the 15 who will start on Sunday and the nine others who will take their place as playing substitutes on the bench.
One change from semi-final starters
One man who won’t be kicking his heels on the bench on Sunday is Knockmore’s Brian Ruttledge who came on in the All Ireland semi-final against Down. Ruttledge replaces his club mate Daryl Herbert in the starting 15 compared to the side which were ready for action at the throw-in, in the last four clash. While there were doubts about the fitness of Michael Schlingermann, Keith Rodgers, and Cillian O’Connor in the lead up to the game, all three were fit enough to be named in the starting side for Sunday’s showdown at 1.15pm.
There have been a few positional switches in that starting side, but how the side will line out we will have to see come Sunday lunch time. Michael Walsh and David Gavin have been switched in the corners on the full back line, while Andrew Farrell from Killala has been named at midfield to partner Castlebar Mitchels’ Danny Kirby. There is still the distinct possibility of captain and veteran from last year’s side, Aidan Walsh, moving out to midfield as an orthodox midfield or part of three person midfield with the little and large combination of Alex Corduff and Cillian O’Connor left to cause havoc in the Armagh full back line. Corduff’s size and pure nuisance factor for any defence has made him the perfect foil this season for the likes of O’Connor and the rest of the Mayo forwards in all their games so far.
But come throw in on Sunday we will see what exact plan the Mayo management team have in mind for the side, there is also the question of the dangerous Armagh full forward line and whether Dempsey will get Walsh, Rodgers, and Gavin to line out in an orthodox full back line or if they will be man marking. Shane McDermott also excelled in the second half of the All Ireland semi final when he was pushed out to wing back to curb the influence of the dangerous Down half forward Caolan Mooney, and not only did he get to grips with Mooney he was able to come into the game more himself.
There are a lot of permutations before the game to be decided and a whole combination of things to go right for Mayo on Sunday if they are to go down with the great minor sides from the county like 1985, 1978, 1971, and teams in the fifties and sixties, right back to our first minor title in 1935. While only 24 players can be named in the programme for Sunday, it also worth keeping in mind that a panel of 30 have been battling away all summer in a quest that has now only 60 minutes left in it until hopefully the ultimate prize.