James Horan has named the same 15 to start tomorrow’s All Ireland quarter final against Down as started last month’s Connacht final victory over Sligo. The starting 15 was released to the media and the general public shortly before lunchtime yesterday and despite much speculation that there could be a couple of changes at least to the side Horan has stuck with the same 15 who took to the field in Hyde Park.
That of course does not mean that there could not be a few changes before throw-in tomorrow, with a lot of people expecting Aidan O’Shea to get the nod in the middle of the park to partner Barry Moran after his impressive display coming off the bench not long after half time in the Nestor Cup decider. While the starting 15 was announced there was no announcement on who will take numbers 16 to 26 on the subs bench for the Croke Park encounter.
This will be the first time in history Mayo and Down go toe to toe in the All Ireland senior football championship tomorrow in Croke Park. There have been a number of tussles down through the years in league and under-age fixtures. As recently as this spring the men from the Mourne county came to Castlebar and went home five point winners. That game saw Aidan O’Shea sent to the line after only 10 minutes and Mayo struggle to convert numerous scoring chances, from play but most from frees.
But times have moved on and Mayo picked up the pieces of that defeat to make the final of the league and a few weeks ago when they collected their second Nestor Cup in a row.
Mayo will be going into the quarter finals having played only two competitive games in the past 14 weeks since their last appearance in Croke Park against Cork in the National League final.
Six day turn around no problem for Down
As for Mayo’s opponents on Sunday, Down have had to come through twice as many games as Mayo to reach this stage of the competition. Their championship run started on the June bank holiday weekend with a trip to Brewster Park, where they confidently put Peter Canavan’s Fermanagh side to the sword with a 2-10 to 1-10, with Donal O’Hara and Conor Laverty getting the goals. They followed that up with a win in one of the most remarkable games of the summer. James McCartan’s side came back from nine points behind against Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final to run out one point winners at the end of a dramatic afternoon of football. However they did come unstuck in dramatic fashion when Donegal steamrolled them in the Ulster final in front of almost 35,000 people in Clones. Jim McGuinniess’ men ran out 2-18 to 0-13 winners. Down did make a contest of it in the opening half but Donegal totally outclassed them in the last 35 minutes.
Down did one of the hardest things to do in recent Gaelic football history, by putting that disappointment behind them and overcoming the six day turnaround in the qualifiers to beat Tipperary in the last 16 by 1-13 to 0-11 in Mullingar last Saturday. The vital goal coming from their main man Benny Coulter who missed the start of the championship through injury and he managed to make it though the full 70 for the first time since returning.
McCartan also showed that he was not afraid to shake things up and made four changes to the starting 15 for last Satruday's game from the one that lost the Ulster final. If he sticks with that starting 15 remains to be seen at the time of going to press. But familiar faces such as Coulter, Mark Poland, Ambrose Rodgers, Kalum King and Dan Gordon will be sure to feature for the Mourne men.