There couldn't be a much tougher task for JP Coen's Mayo senior hurlers if they are to have any interest in championship hurling beyond the middle of May tomorrow. James Stephens Park in Ballina will be the venue for the meeting of Coen's side and last year's Christy Ring Cup champions, Kildare, in the winner takes all round 2b clash. Mayo lost out to Derry in Owenbeg a fortnight ago by two points, while Kildare were finally defeated by London in a replay in St Conleth's Park in Newbridge last weekend. Both sides finished level after extra time in the Emerald Grounds in Ruislip the week before, when Mayo were going down to Derry.
Last time out, Mayo put in a battling and gutsy performance to come up just two points short against a Derry side, who finished well up the table in the league; a division above a Mayo side who had to see off the challenge of Donegal in a relegation play-off to ensure that they remained in division 2b for next season. But with only two men scoring over the 70 minutes for Mayo, and only a solitary point return for their efforts in the second half, a well tuned Derry side managed to reel in the 0-10 to 0-4 lead that Coen's men had managed to put up on the scoreboard in the first half with the aid of a massive gale blowing right down the heart of the field in Owenbeg.
Kenny Feeney and Kieran McDermott were the men who got the scores for Mayo that day. Feeney chipped in with nine points, seven of them from frees and one from a 65', while McDermott landed two points from play. Only managing to land three scores from open play is something that won't do tomorrow for Mayo, if they are to have any chance of putting it up to the Lilywhites who went all the way in this competition last year.
Mayo's chances were dealt a blow before the Derry game when Keith Higgins ruled himself out of contention for the squad due to his football responsibilities. Added to that was the loss of u21 footballer Sean Regan, due to an injury picked up playing club football the week before. It is hoped that Regan will be back fit and ready to go for tomorrow's encounter against a battle hardened Kildare side, who don't want to follow up last year's victory in this competition with an early exit from it this year.
Last weekend they welcomed the Exiles to Newbridge after their titanic struggle the previous week, and it was the 2012 Christy Ring Cup winners who went back across the Irish Sea with the spoils after a 3-16 to 0-19 win, after the sides drew the previous week on a scoreline of 2-23 each.
Coen will be hoping that the likes of the experienced players such as Aidan Connolly, Kieran McDermott, Stephen Hoban, and Brian Hunt, along with younger players like David Kenny (who continues to develop into a fine player ), and Fergal Boland, will have the quality to propel the side to what in all reality will be a very difficult task, to get one over last year's winners in Ballina. Mayo will be looking to keep it solid at the back and hope that Feeney has his shooting boots with him from placed balls and the forward unit can get more into the game if they are to live to fight another day in this year's competition. It's two years since the sides last met in this competition with the Leinster men running out 1-23 to 0-16 winners in Newbridge. The game throws in a 1.30pm in James Stephens Park on Saturday afternoon.