Capital challenge for Mayo in final four showdown

Here we go again: Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor and Colm Boyle break from the tunnel in Cork last Sunday before the game. All three will be key men for Mayo in Corke Park on Sunday. Photo:Sportsfile

Here we go again: Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor and Colm Boyle break from the tunnel in Cork last Sunday before the game. All three will be key men for Mayo in Corke Park on Sunday. Photo:Sportsfile

The league is a bit of a curate’s egg of a competition for a lot of teams, and for Mayo it’s no different. A necessity to get out of the way ahead of the proper stuff come summer time, but then an opportunity to blood new players and to get some momentum built up ahead of that self same summer of championship action. For Mayo the league so far has had those essential elements of the aforementioned curate’s egg of being partially bad and partially good. The good has been in the last two games, beating Donegal and Cork, to not only maintain their division one status but to book a unexpected place in the last four of the competition and a semi-final on Sunday against Dublin. The bad has been the defeats to Tyrone, Down, Dublin, and Kildare in the middle four games of the competition, and not taking advantage of situations such as having a man advantage against Dublin in Croke Park.

But credit has to be given to James Horan and his charges as they have made sure that they maintained their division one status and made the play-off stages of the competition, when not even the first one looked very likely the night before St Patrick’s Day when Kildare left Castlebar with two points in the bag and left Mayo needing two wins against two of the last three All Ireland champions in their final brace of games to keep their necks above water. They dug deep in both of those games and did what was necessary, and last Sunday they did so without both Barry Moran and Keith Higgins who were added to the list of the walking wounded.

Dubs are becoming familiar foes

Sunday’s game against Dublin is the third meeting of the sides in Croke Park in eight months, and with Mayo’s Salthill date with Galway in the Connacht championship only six weeks out from this Sunday, it offers Mayo another serious challenge in preparation for that provincial showdown. But the closeness of the Galway game poses its own problems that will have to be overcome. Training schemes and schedules will have had have been adapted to take into account the build-up to Sunday’s game and a win on over Dublin would see Mayo in the final against either Tyrone or Kildare on Sunday April 28, which would leave only 21 days between that and the meeting with Alan Mulholland’s men in Salthill.

As for Mayo’s opponents on Sunday, they topped the table with five wins from their seven games, losing out only to a resurgent Tyrone in round five. Last Sunday saw them pick up their draw thanks to Paul Mannion’s injury time point in Ballybofey that condemned current All Ireland champions Donegal to relegation to division two for next year. Jim Gavin’s side have been the team to beat this year and were already installed as 3/1 favourites for the All Ireland this year and are 4/5 favourites to win the national league with one leading bookmaker on Thursday.

A bit of everything last Sunday

Last Sunday saw them relegated, safe from the drop and in the last four of the competition at a number of stages over the course of the 70 minutes of action played across a number of venues up and down the country. The battling spirit and composure to pull back in Cork after the rebels had put themselves into a 0-7 to 0-1 lead after 24 minutes was something that Mayo players and supporters alike will take great heart from. While Cillian O’Connor took the headlines for his two sideline points late on, the save by David Clarke from Fintan Goold 47 minutes in was the major turning point of the game, which is something the Ballintubber attacker admitted after the game. “That was a vital moment in the game, it probably would have turned it,” said O’Connor before going on to praise his keeper, saying: “There’s no better man in the country you’d want in that position,” and “he’s hard to beat, we know that from training ourselves.”

As for facing the Dubs in Croke Park on Sunday it was a nice incentive to have, the national school teaching student said. “It was a nice carrot to have coming here, that if we did our business we’d be back in Croker.” He knows that Dublin will offer a serious test to Mayo on Sunday and they are the team most neutrals are tipping. “They’re the form team this year, they have so many players playing well and such a big panel. It’s nice to play against teams like that and measure yourself against the best to see where you stand.”

Mayo supporters will be hoping that O’Connor and his team-mates find themselves standing over their Dublin opponents at the final whistle on Sunday and in the league final.

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