With a sell out crowd of 30,000 expected to head to Hyde Park on Sunday, there will be nowhere to hide for Mayo as they aim to dethrone Fergal O’Donnell’s defending Connacht champions on their home patch. Ten years ago O’Donnell was the man who lifted the Nestor Cup in the same venue on a sweltering Sunday evening when a late, late Gerry Lohan goal had primrose and blue ribbons hanging from the old trophy for the year at the end of one of the games of the ages.
While O’Donnell has moved from the field to the sideline and now has a Connacht title as a manager to add to his collection, James Horan will be looking to pick up his first Connacht title as a manager and he has stuck with the same team which saw off the challenge of Galway at the end of June in McHale Park. It’s the first time in the 13 games he has taken charge of Mayo in that he has started with the same first 15. Trevor Mortimer is the only survivor from that that encounter a decade ago as he retains his place in the half back line alongside Donal Vaughan and Richie Feeney. The Mayo half back line will have their hands full with the trio of Cathal Cregg, Kevin Higgins and Senan O’Grady all capable of causing Mayo problems in that area.
Battle of the big men in the middle
Midfield will be a key battle ground on Sunday and the Breaffy brothers of Aidan and Seamus O’Shea have been handed the task of getting the better of the pairing of Michael Finneran and Karol Mannion. Horan has left Ronan McGarrity in reserve on the bench as the Ballina man works his way back from injury. He managed to play some part in the win over Galway, but an injury picked up in club championship action a fortnight ago has curtailed his chances of making a burst for the starting 15.
The Mayo full back line keeps the same three personal as from the semi-final with one positional switch as Keith Higgins and Tom Cunniffee swap corners and Alan Feeney marshals the middle. A big 70 minutes from all three will be needed as the Roscommon full forward line are a very potent unit with Donal Shine and Senan Kilbride in particular potential game winners for Roscommon.
A big game is needed from Mayo’s experienced half forward line if the Nestor Cup is to come home over the border in the arms of captain Alan Dillon and he, along with Andy Moran will be key to a Mayo victory in two days time. Both Moran and Dillon are the natural leaders of the team and on Sunday and a lot will be expected of them. Peter Domican captains Roscommon from the number six shirt and his match up with Alan Dillon will be one that a lot of eyes will be on. Kevin McLoughlin will be expected to work hard and work for a lot of the dirty ball in close to the midfield battle. The Knockmore man is a very talented footballer and if he is on his game, he could be a key man in steering Mayo to victory.
The Mayo full forward line which was one of the most impressive units of the side in the National Football League, with Jason Doherty scoring goals for fun and Alan Freeman continuing to impress, hasn’t really clicked into gear yet in the championship. Freeman did bag 1-2 in the win over Galway, while Doherty has only managed to get 0-1 in each of his championship starts this season. But they have already proved this year that the potential is there to be a devastating attacking unit. This time last year Cillian O’Connor was getting ready to captain the Mayo minor side to Connacht championship victory and Sunday will be another big test for the talented young Ballintubber man as he continues his senior championship education.
Not much between either side
Come Sunday at 2pm it’s all to play for once again, with a lot of people sitting on the fence on picking a winner. Roscommon are the Connacht champions and have overcome New York and Leitrim so far this year in the competition, while Mayo limped over the line against London and managed to pull things together in the second half to see off Galway in the semi-final. Home advantage will be a plus for Roscommon on Sunday, but they were a division four league side while Mayo managed to retain their division one status thanks to wins over All Ireland champions Cork and Galway and a draw against last year’s beaten All Ireland finalists Down. But it has been a primrose and blue year so far when the sides have met in the two other marquee competitions in Connacht, with the Roscommon u21s beating Mayo back in March in McHale Park and their minor side also coming out on top in their Connacht semi-final clash in Castlebar which was a curtain raiser for the Mayo and Galway game. Roscommon will be looking to make it three out of three over Mayo in the Connacht football championship on Sunday. But with Horan sending out the same 15 into battle for the second game in a row for the first time this season, a maiden Connacht title for the Ballintubber man in the Banisteoirs bib is a real distinct possibility on Sunday.
You can read how the game went on Sunday evening, by logging on to www.advertiser.ie/mayo where we will have a full report on the game not long after the final whistle.