In the 11 years since Mayo claimed their last national senior title, they have gone to Croke Park on four occasions in national finals only to return home empty handed and more often than not on the end of a bit of a beating. All Ireland finals in 2004 and 2006 along with league finals in 2007 and 2010 have all seen Mayo come up short on final day.
While there are always plenty of internal and external examinations as to why Mayo do not get over the line as often as they should, Mayo always come back looking for more, taking on all comers, confounding the critics at home and away each time. Only a few weeks ago the old questions were being asked of Mayo, but they once again confounded the critics and are now 70 minutes away from picking up a national title ahead of the start of summer.
Sunday’s game will see the third meeting of these sides in the space of 12 months, with the score standing at one apiece, but Mayo’s win in last year’s championship quarter final was the far more impressive win in importance and style. It is also only two years since Cork whipped Mayo by 1-17 to 0-12 at this exact stage of this competition on their way to an All Ireland win that September.
Tough calls to be made in a number of positions
With James Horan’s side not named as we went to print, there are not too many positions up for grabs one would assume, following Mayo’s performance against Kerry in the semi-final. The only confirmed absence being that of Aidan O’Shea who is still recovering from the injury he picked up against Kerry in Tralee, three weeks ago. O’Shea’s brother Seamus and Alan Freeman should both also be back in with a shout after getting over their own injuries. The back six should be nailed on to retain their starting spots after doing more than OK against Kerry’s front six over the past two games, while Colm Boyle’s match turning goal has alerted those outside the county to the abilities of the Davitts’ wing back, who has grabbed his second chance with Mayo with both arms this year. With Cork welcoming back Colm O’Neill who missed out last year due to injury the Mayo defence will have to be on top form. O’Neill will be ably supported by the likes of Aidan Walsh, Fintan Goold, and Donnacha O’Connor in the Cork attack.
With Aidan O’Shea out of the reckoning, who makes up the midfield pairing will be a major question for Horan to answer. Going on the last two games, Jason Gibbons will take one of those spots, but with whom? Pat Harte, Seamus O’Shea, Barry Moran, and Danny Geraghty have all started games in either the eight or nine jersey this year in the league. Each player brings his own strengths and weaknesses to the table, but going up against the likes of Alan O’Connor and Pearse O’Neill, whoever takes the two positions in the middle of the pitch will have to be on top of their game.
Getting the attack right
In attack there are a couple of choices that Horan will have to make, will he give Cillian O’Connor the nod to start on Sunday? The young footballer of the year showed his nerves of steel again against Kerry to kick the vital score against them at the end of normal time in the semi-final. Discounting the abandoned Dublin game, O’Connor has only started two league games this year, against Cork in Castlebar, where he was taken off before half time, and away to Kerry where he kicked six points. Coming off the bench he saw only a couple of minutes of action against both Donegal and Dublin during the league stages of the competition. But he did make a vital contribution coming off the bench in the semi-final against Kerry with his late pointed free. But where would he come into the side? Mayo’s new captain Andy Moran, Kevin McLoughlin, Alan Dillon, and Conor Mortimer, it would be assumed, will be nailed starters. Michael Conroy has started the last four games in a row and has not done anything to lose his spot. Alan Freeman coming back from injury is another who will be looking for a spot, along with Enda Varley who started the year in flying form. These are tough decisions for Horan to make, but welcome ones all the same. Come Sunday at 4pm all those questions will be answered, hopefully just before 6pm there will be reasons to celebrate and toast the men who were the answer to those questions.