It is a simple as can be tomorrow (Saturday, March 12 ) when this year's crop of Mayo u21s take to the field in the preliminary round of the Connacht u21 championship. Win and they are through to a semi-final against Leitrim the following week, lose and it is pack away the Mayo gear for another year, or maybe forever for a number of the players. Standing in the way of Ray Dempsey's men and progression in the championship are the near neighbours in primrose and blue, Roscommon. Dempsey took charge of the Mayo u21s last year for the first time after three very successful years as the manager of the minor team which saw him reach two All Ireland finals on the trot. But last year the wheels came unstuck in a ill tempered semi-final in Hyde Park on St Patrick’s Day, which Mayo lost by a single score following a helter skelter affair.
Dempsey named his side for the clash on Thursday afternoon, he has handed Breaffy’s Aidan O’Shea the captain’s armband for the game and O’Shea will line out at full forward. Robert Hennelly will be between the posts, with Shane McHale, Kevin Keane and Keith Rodgers manning the full back line. The half back line sees Danny Kirby normally a midfielder in the lynchpin number six shirt, he’ll be flanked on either side by Eoghan O’Reilly and Caolan Crowe. The midfield is made up of Danny Geraghty and Shane Nally. While Ballycastle’s Michael Forde and Andrew Farell will be the wing forwards with Cathal Freeman in the centre half forward shirt. Joining O’Shea in the full forward line is Ballintubber sharpshooter Cillian O’Connor and Swinford’s Colin Dempsey.
On Saturday Dempsey and his back room team will be hoping they have prepared their charges as well as they can for the battle with the defending champions. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week Dempsey is giving his opponents their fair due ahead of the game. “Roscommon are the defending champions and they have to be respected for that, they are not going to give up their title very easy. There has also been a lot of talk over the last few weeks about the senior team’s game against Dublin, will it be on the Friday night or the Sunday, and people saying that we will have a game on the Saturday. That's only giving the Roscommon team more fuel for Saturday and showing them a bit of disrespect, which we most definitely won't be doing going into the game thinking like that, we know we have a tough battle and it will be a hard fought game that we will have to win.”
Since he came into inter-county management game, Dempsey has always been promoting the team overall over the individual player, and trying to get players to dig in and give their all to cause. He is expecting no less from his charges on Saturday. “It's all about rolling the sleeves up and getting stuck into the challenge ahead and thinking of this game only and nothing more. You have to take it game by game. We're looking for the lads to stand up and give their all on Saturday. When lads are growing up they all want to play for Mayo and now that they have got there, they have to put it all into the game, every time they put on a Mayo jersey. It's a great honour to wear a Mayo jersey any time and the lads have to realise that, there are so many other people who would love to do it and don't get the chance.”
With the u21 championship throwing in this weekend for Mayo and the season really only in its early stages, there are trials and tribulations for the u21 management team as they try to plot a way through the championship. “It is tough at times, we have lads going with the senior team, their colleges in the Sigerson, and other competitions. We have to try and blend it all together as best we can. We haven't even seen them play in a club game this year. You would sometimes have to wonder why the u21 football championship is played early in the year, and the hurling at the tail end of the summer when players and conditions are at their peak. But we've been working hard and the lads have been working hard and we’re going out on Saturday to win. It will be tough, but if the lads put in the performance and the players stand up to be counted and the leaders that are there in the side stand up we will be a long way to getting it right.” The game will throw in on Saturday at 2.30pm and you can read a match report on the game on www.advertiser.ie/mayo from Saturday evening.