Tomorrow evening in Elverys MacHale Park, Mayo will be looking to make it back into the Connacht u21 final for the first time since 2009 when they take on Galway in the provincial semi-final.
Last week Mayo picked up their first win in three years at this grade with a hard fought win over Leitrim in the same venue, but tomorrow night’s game promises to be a very different animal of an encounter.
Niall Hefferenan’s side will be facing up against a doughty Galway side under the guidance of former Ballinrobe manager Alan Flynn. Since Mayo’s last victory at this grade, Galway have claimed Connacht titles in 2011 and 2013 and gone on to win All Ireland titles in both years, the most recent was under the sole guidance of Flynn.
Earlier this year Galwegians lost out to Roscommon in the semi-final of the Hastings Cup pre-season tournament, and the winners of this game will face the Rossies in the Connacht decider after they booked their spot in the final with a crushing defeat of Sligo on Wednesday night in Kiltoom where they scored 6-18 against the Yeats County side.
Mayo were slow to get going last week against Leitrim and the 10 wides they kicked in the opening 30 minutes only made their task harder on themselves. Mayo manager Niall Hefferenan’s preparations were further put under pressure last weekend when both Diarmuid O’Connor and Patrick Durcan were called up for action with the Mayo senior team against Dublin. Durcan was replaced by fellow u21 player Stephen Coen 41 minutes in, while O’Connor got 51 minutes of action into his legs before he was replaced. Another of Hefferenan’s key players and man of the match in last week’s win over Leitrim, Michael Hall, was an unused substuite in the senior teams match day panel on the evening also.
Hall is one man Mayo will be hoping can keep up his form from the semi-final, the Breaffy man scored 1-1 from his corner back position and was a constant threat to the Leitrim defence with his powerful running along with putting in a good defensive shift.
Mayo’s wastefulness last week is something that Hefferenan will hope they have got out of their system ahead of this clash. Along with the aforementioned senior players, he will be looking for good performances from team captain Adam Gallagher, James Durcan, Brian Reape, and TJ Byrne in attack. David Kenny, James Stretton, and Sean Reagan will need to be on their toes in defence. In midfield, Balla’s Val Roughneen or the aforementioned Byrne should partner O’Connor in that area and a big game is needed from the engine room of the team. Mayo do have options off the bench as they proved last week, with St Gerald’s College student Matthew Ruane coming on to grab himself a goal and put in a solid shift, while Ballintubber’s Michael Plunkett and Crossmolina’s Conor Loftus are both well able to have an impact on the outcome. Ballyhaunis’ Morgan Lyons is another they could be looking to, to change things up if it is needed in attack.
Galway will come to town with an impressive looking squad, with captain Damien Comer along with fellow senior players Enda Tierney and Johnny Heaney key players in their side. Other players they will hope can shine for them include Adrian Nolan, Michael Dlay, Eamon Brannigan, and Michael Day. While their Corofin contingent of Liam Silke, Martin Farragher, Conor Cunningham and Dylan Wall could be in contention following their heroics in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
All in all, it should be a great encounter between the two rivals with very little between them, and with a place in the provincial final at stake the following weekend a good crowd should be on hand in Elverys MacHale Park tomorrow evening.