The Mayo senior hurlers will be hoping to avoid moving one step closer to falling through the trapdoor into the Nicky Rackard Cup for next season when they take on Wicklow in Mullingar tomorrow. JP Coen's side lost out to Kildare in a seesaw encounter in James Stephens Park in Ballina last Saturday, and now have 70 minutes to ensure their Ring Cup status for next season and avoid the relegation/promotion final which will see the losers of this game take on the winners of the Rackard Cup on Saturday June 13 for the right to compete in the Christy Ring Cup next season.
Mayo battled bravely last Saturday and gave all they had against the 2014 winners, but playing into the teeth of a gale in the second half they were unable to hold on to a half-time five point lead and use the extra man advantage they had when Johnny Byrne was sent to the line for an off the ball incident that left David Kenny in a heap on the ground towards the end of the opening half.
Kildare were excellent in the second half and picked off Mayo's lead with a number of points from distance, and were very fortunate to score a second goal when Willie Greene's long punt in was misjudged by Donal O'Brien in the Mayo goal, and with that 10 minutes into the half Kildare had turned a 1-11 to 0-5 deficit into a 2-12 to 1-12 lead. The five point advantage that Mayo had at the break should have been much more, if they had even taken half of the efforts they skewed wide in the opening 35 minutes they would have gone in 10 points to the good and realistically killed off the Lilywhites' challenge as they would have faced into a double digit and one man deficit for the second period.
Mayo were boosted by the return to hurling action for the first time this year of football captain Keith Higgins, who was a late addition to the half-back line, and the Ballyhaunis man put in a good showing, bagging a goal in the first half and pulling off one great hook on a Kildare attacker as he bore down on goal. But the main man for Mayo on the day was Fergal Boland who hit seven points from play over the 70 minutes, and his run of scores in the middle of the opening half really calmed down the up to then misfiring Mayo attack. Boland's accuracy was something that Mayo could have done with from a few other players on the day, and their tactic of playing Kenny Feeney in a sweeper role also left them short in attack where a physical Kildare full-back line was able to boss the play in that area and choke off whatever chances Darren McTigue and Stephen Hoban had of influencing the encounter.
So tomorrow all roads lead to Cusack Park in Mullingar where JP Coen's men have to face down Wicklow to ensure they stay in the second tier competition for 2016. The Garden County have ended up in this position after a first round hammering at the hands of Meath and a nine point defeat to Down in the round 2b of the competition. Mayo have beaten just one team so far this year in both league and championship action, seeing off Donegal in the opening round of the league and the same opposition in the league relegation decider, on Saturday they face a Wicklow side who have been having a similar run of form as themselves, albeit in a higher league division. They picked up one win in the league away to Derry on the last day of the league season after losing their previous five games. It is going to be a big ask for Mayo tomorrow against men from the Garden County. The game throws in at 1pm.