The weekend after the nation celebrated the 1916 Rising, Mayo are looking to stage their own rising in the U21 ranks and will head to the ground named after Countess Markievicz in Sligo tomorrow evening to do so. It has been seven years since Mayo last claimed the JJ Fahy Cup, in the same venue, beating Sligo 3-14 to 1-8 in the provincial decider.
The team that day featured plenty of familiar faces who have gone on to make serious waves at the senior level in the past seven years including Robert Hennelly, Kevin Keane, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin, Tom Parsons, Cathal Carolan, Aidan O'Shea, Jason Gibbons, and Jason Doherty.
This year's crop of U21s are no strangers to success, with the team backboned by the successful minor side who claimed the All Ireland title in 2013, nine of the team that started their semi-final win over Leitrim started the minor decider three years ago and it would have probably been rounded off to 10 if Liam Irwin had been fit to play his part rather than be the man in the Maor Uisce bib in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada a fortnight ago.
Mayo face a Roscommon side who are looking to make it three titles on the bounce at this grade and they have a man running the show for them who has tasted success in Mayo himself, with their manager Mark Dowd having managed boys from the borderline Ballaghaderreen to the Mayo senior title in 2012, the last time the title did not go to either Ballintubber or Castlebar Mitchels.
Roscommon have had two games under their belts in the championship having been pitted on the long side of the draw, seeing off Galway by 1-16 to 2-10 in Kiltoom in early March. Diarmuid Murtagh who bustled Mayo's net last Sunday in the senior meeting between the sides was their main marksman that day scoring 1-2, with his goal coming from the penalty spot. Their full forward line of Murtagh, Cathal Callinan, and Hubert Darcy accounted for all but eight points of their total day with Callinan scoring four points and Darcy two, while they also had to do without the services of Ultan Harney in that game.
In their semi-final against Sligo the following week they blew Sligo away with ease in a 13 point victory with Darcy and Murtagh both chipping in with four points each in their 1-18 to 0-8 win, the potent threat posed by the Roscommon attack is something that Mayo manager Michael Solan will have been working on curbing for this Saturday night's meeting. Mayo in their sole outing this year while devastating in attack against Leitrim, were very porous at the back with Leitrim scoring 15 points over the hour in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. Solan will be looking for big games from Seamus Cunniffe, David Kenny, Michael Hall, and Eddie Doran to keep things at bay in front of Matthew Flanagan in the Mayo goal. Mayo could also drop Stephen Coen back into the defence after the Hollymount-Carramore man started in the middle of the field the last day, while Michael Plunkett, though named at corner forward, operated in a sweeping roll in Carrick-on-Shannon and that is something that we will probably see again this Saturday. Sharoize Akram put in a very good showing in the half-back line when he was introduced into the side and the young Ballaghaderren man could very well get the starting nod for this encounter.
In the middle of the park, Breaffy's Matthew Ruane was sent into the action very early in that win over Leitrim and he laid down a marker of real intent for a starting position, scoring a point with his first involvement and setting up a goal not long after. Up front the five of the Mayo starting forwards who actually played in the attack, with Plunkett dropping back to cover the defence, all got on the scoreboard in the semi-final, and with last year's young player of the year Diarmuid O'Connor and Conor Loftus bringing some quality senior experience into the side Mayo will be confident of being able to hurt the Roscommon rearguard. Brian Reape scored 2-3 and Fionan Duffy hit 1-2 from the full forward line, Fergal Boland chipped in with two points from wing forward, while Loftus hit four points and O'Connor bagged himself a goal. Mayo looked to be well stacked in that area and if Irwin has got over his shoulder injury that is another serious string to add to Mayo's attacking bow.
This will be a fascinating encounter between two sides who will rightly feel they have what it takes to win this contest and have a serious crack at All Ireland glory, but as with this grade and unlike the other two major ones in the inter county game, there is no room for error or backdoor to try to break back through. The game throws in at 6pm in Sligo on Saturday evening.