Mayo look to keep top spot as Monaghan visit Castlebar

GAA: National Football League

Out of defence: Keith Higgins escapes the clutches of Colm Cooper and Bryan Sheehan in Tralee last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Out of defence: Keith Higgins escapes the clutches of Colm Cooper and Bryan Sheehan in Tralee last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

In Kerry last weekend, a wise man said that it only matters what happens on the third Sunday in September and seeing that his county has more All Ireland titles than most could dream of, it’s very sage advice. Mayo had just picked up their fourth win in this year’s national football league which left them top of the pile with two rounds of the competition to go, but in the grand scheme of things what does making it to the latter stages of the competition really effect in the long run? In 2007, Mayo reached the final against Donegal only to bow out of the Connacht championship a month later in the preliminary round to Galway. The last time that Mayo won the national league back in 2001 under Pat Holmes they bowed out of the Connacht championship to Roscommon in a nail biting encounter. Mayo have been one of the best league sides over the past decade or so reaching semi finals in 2002, 2005, and 2006 along with the finals in 2001 and 2007, but it has failed to see them push on to the biggest prize. Only in 2006 did they go on reach the All Ireland final where Kerry ended the dream once again.

While different teams use the league for different reasons, some for trying out new players or ideas and others for rebuilding after a poor championship in the previous year, only Kerry four times in the last decade and Tyrone once have pushed on from winning the competition to claim All Ireland success in recent times. Kerry did indeed do this last year also, but the previous two winners Derry and Donegal exited the provincial championship before the provincial final stage.

Tough battle from McEnaney’s men in store

This Sunday Mayo will entertain Monaghan in their penultimate league game with a place in the league decider still up for grabs, with Dublin and Cork the other two sides looking to make it to the final in a few weeks’ time. With the championship only 10 weeks away and a very tricky trek to Sligo in store another win would be very welcome by the Mayo faithful, Seamus McEnaney’s men from ‘Farney county. The Ulster men have picked up two home wins so far this season against fellow Ulster sides Tyrone and Derry in their league enclave in Scotstown. Monaghan will pose a very tough physical challenge for Mayo with the likes of Vinny Corey, Dick Clerkin, and Darren Hughes well able to put themselves about on the field and get stuck in when needed. Paul Finlay and Tommy Freeman are two fine finishers who will cause the Mayo defence plenty of problems.

Mortimer looking for starting spot

Mayo themselves though could be in for a selection headache in attack, a positive headache after Conor Mortimer’s second half cameo where he kicked four points in eight minutes of coming off the bench. He replaced Mark Ronaldson who came back into the side after serving a four week suspension and Mortimer’s display will have him knocking on the door for a recall to the starting 15 for Sunday’s game. Mayo did pick up a few knocks last Sunday with Alan Dillon being forced from the game before full time after picking up a knock to the leg, while Enda Varley, who was the only Mayo player to score in the opening half, also had to leave before full time. But it will be before the weekend if either player is ruled out of the game. Mayo are also waiting for Ronan McGarrity to recover from a hamstring injury, along with long term absentees Aidan Kilcoyne and Barry Moran who are both expected back in action in the next couple of weeks.

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