While they are far better known for their small ball game, the black and amber Cats from Kilkenny are standing in Mayo's way of reaching the All Ireland Junior Football Championship final tomorrow afternoon in Tullamore. Kilkenny who only field a football team at junior level have progressed to this stage of the competition after winning the British junior crown, travelling over and back to Great Britain for all their games this summer so far. In the final of that championship they saw off the challenge of Scotland to book their final four spot.
Mayo's path to the penultimate round of the competition took a more traditional route, with wins over Sligo in the Connacht semi-final in Ballina, and a week and a half later they saw off Galway in the Connacht final in Carrick-on-Shannon on the under card of the Galway and Leitrim senior championship encounter. The last time that Mayo played Kilkenny in a competitive football game was back at the tail end of 1997, when the National Football League was redrawn and an open draw for the divisions was made. Mayo took on the Cats in Nowlan Park and ran out 2-17 to 1-5 winners that day with Ciaran McDonald kicking 1-6 and Colm McManamon chipping in with six points, a very high total for the Burrishoole workhorse. Other big name players who featured that day include James Horan, David Brady, and current joint Mayo senior manager Pat Holmes.
Mayo last won the junior title back in 1997, having won it previously in 1995, three years ago they made it to the All Ireland final where Kerry got the better of them in tough battle in Cusack Park in Ennis, and it is back to this stage Sean McLoughlin is aiming to bring his charges tomorrow afternoon. In their win over Galway in the provincial final, Mayo had a number of strong performances from Ballintubber's Damien McGin, Killala's Andrew Farrell in attack, and man-of-the-match Barry Leonard from Lahardane in the full back line.
The Mayo midfield pairing that day of Peter Collins from Islandeady and Pádraic Feerick from Hollymount-Carramore makes a big mobile unit who will look to impose themselves on the Kilkenny duo in that sector, while Darren McHugh and Eoin O'Donoghue will be expected to keep things tight in the half back line. Mayo will have do to without the services of former senior panellist Adam Gallagher and Conor Horan who are both out injured, but McLoughlin has drafted in a couple of new players to cover across the squad.
While this game has a novel look about it on paper, McLoughlin will have his charges keyed up and tuned into the game, and with an All Ireland final spot up for grabs, nothing can be taken for granted. The game throws in at 2pm in the Offaly county grounds and there will be full coverage on Mid West Radio on the contest for those who are not making the trip to the Faithful County.