While many would have been lining the pitches in Breaffy, Shrule, Claremorris, and Burrishoole or easing themselves into watching Joe Canning put ona legendary display but still end up on a losing side last Saturday night, there was a bit of history being made in Aughrim, County Wicklow.
After a nail-biting encounter Mayo saw off the challenge of Wicklow by 3-18 to 1-22 in the Christy Ring Cup in an epic encounter and thus booked their place in the last four of the competition for the first time in their history. This Saturday in McHale Park, they will get to grips with Leinster opposition in the shape of Carlow in a final four battle with the ultimate prize of a place in the Christy Ring Cup final and a live television debut for the Mayo hurlers.
“It was a great game, a real hard battle and throwing in extra time a real tough encounter for us,” is how Mayo captain Paddy Barrett described the game. “A super performance by the lads who showed great determination and heart to come through it”, was manager Martin Brennan’s view on the encouter. “But I’m under no illusions how tough it will be again this Saturday. Carlow may be a tier two side, but they’re buried right in the heart of hurling in Leinster and are a very good side who we are not underestimating in any way.”
Mayo get what they deserve
It’s been four years since the introduction of the Christy Ring Cup. Mayo reached the final of it’s predecessor the All Ireland B Championship in Croke Park in its ultimate year, but since the introduction of the different tiered competitions and the prize of a place in the All Ireland championship proper, the competition has really heated up. Last Saturday Keith Higgins hit nine points, Alan Freeman 1-3, and Stephen Broderick 1-1. Mayo will be looking to see these players shoot the lights out again on Saturday evening.
“It’s nothing less than these lads deserve. We’ve put an awful lot of hard work in since the start of the year. We had an eight-week spell after the new year when we had only two games and worked extremely hard on our fitness and reserves. You could really see that coming through on Saturday in extra time. We were winning by two points late on in normal time, but let them come back into it, but in extra time we had that extra bit to give and it showed. In other years we didn’t have that and we needed it this year to get through it,” said Brennan.
Barrett saw a new belief in the side this year and thinks that it had a lot to do with them making it this far. “We’ve always had a lot of top quality hurlers in Mayo and this year we sort of said to ourselves, it’s about time we showed that out there on the field. We’ve had a number of near misses over the last few years, but this year we’ve been ready for it. Westmeath would be the favourites to win this competition, but we’ve already shown in the league that we fear no-one and beat them in McHale Park when the odds were against us right at the end. But we’ve got a lot of respect for all the sides left in this competition, they’re all very good or they wouldn’t be here, but we’re going to be ready for it on Saturday when the ball is thrown in.
Getting the support out
Saturday offers a great oppertunity for Mayo to show themselves off to a greater audience and Brennan belives that it’s vitally important for the future of the game in the county that supporters come out and support them. “We’ve a very small base here with five or six senior clubs and to do what we have done is unbelivable, the likes of Carlow and the other sides have 15 and 16 strong senior clubs to pick from. What we need is people to come out and support us on Saturday and this gives people who wouldn’t normally watch hurling here the chance to see the high quality that we play to, and get them interested in the game.”
Barrett feels likewise that getting people coming to the games is a necessity if hurling is going to thrive. “There are lads on the panel who have been slugging away here for years at it and now is a massive oppertunity for us. We train as hard as anyside and hopefully the fact were doing well and getting to semi-finals gives people that push they need to come out and see us in action on Saturday, because we all need that bit of support as it’ll be no easy task aginst Carlow.”