The defensive crust

Break on through: Eoin O'Donoghue in action in last year's All Ireland junior final. Photo: Sportsfile.

Break on through: Eoin O'Donoghue in action in last year's All Ireland junior final. Photo: Sportsfile.

Coming from the tip of the county, with the Atlantic winds whipping in on top of them, Belmullet has produced a fine line of teak tough Mayo footballers over the years, and the latest of that lineage to don the green and red in am All Ireland final battle is Eoin O'Donoghue.

The 19-year-old second year business student in NUIG student comes from a family of bakers, but there is nothing soft about his no nonsense defensive style. He's played a part in all of Mayo's three games so far in this under 21 campaign, coming off the bench against Leitrim in the semi-final, and again in the Connacht final against Roscomon to stem the primrose and blue's early attacking dominance before starting their semi-final win against Dublin in Tullamore a fortnight ago.

Mayo put in a serious defensive shift in the opening stages of that wsemi-final win over Dublin which gave them a massive foothold in the game and when it came to the crunch the rearguard came out on tops in the dying stages of that contest.

"I think it's part and parcel of any team that most teams are built from the back, you hear all good managers say that. You try to have a solid foundation, but all the defenders here are confident and we work on our ball skills a huge amount, and I'd be confident if I found myself in the other team's half, you could pick out a pass and find the full forward line," he told the Mayo Advertiser ahead of tomorrow's game against Cork.

Seeing off the challenges

Mayo's last two games in this campaign have had similar enough momentum swings over the hour. Mayo were able to nose in front at the death against Roscommon after poor start, they managed to swing things back in their favour against Dublin after it looked like the game had slipped through their fingers. It's the small margins in games that make the difference O'Donoghue believes. "We were only two or three down at the break against Roscommon, we'd really pulled it back before the break and similar to what Dublin did to us, rattling off two or three scores before the half. So I wouldn't really look at that as being a problem. It was a combination of small errors you try to weed out, we maybe didn't start the second half as well as we needed to and weren't as fast we should have been."

O'Donghue has played in a few All Ireland finals before with his secondary school, Our Lady's in Belmullet, where he picked up a winner's medal, and last year he was wing back on the Mayo junior team who lost to Kerry in Croke Park and he's really looking forward to having a crack at making it two from three in finals. "Ah, it's great, it's something to look forward to, but at the end of the day it's game four. At the start of the year when we set out our stall we wanted to play four championship games. We knew the schedule that was set out at the start of the year and it was two weeks, two weeks and so on. We always planned to be here at the end of the day and we're happy to be there." As for excitement at home, his younger siblings are really looking forward to the game. "I think my younger brothers they think it's a huge thing, they'll enjoy it and it's nice for them. There are seven children in the family and I'm right in the middle, I've two younger brothers who are big GAA fans."

Leaders of men

Nine of the Mayo team that started the semi-final against Dublin have All Ireland winners medals in their back pocket from the 2013 minor championship. While O'Donoghue missed out on that glory, playing on the minor side who reached the All Ireland semi-final the next year, the familiarity with all the team is there from battles down the years he believes. "I wasn't with them in 2013, but it's the same fellas you've come up playing against and with in soccer and Gaelic and all that throughout the years, I'd have known them before." While there are plenty of big names in this Mayo set up who have experience with the senior set up, there is a trust and belief in single member of the squad. "We've a massive confidence in the lads, we've some serious leaders around the team from number one to 32, you can trust any of the lads who come in. We've a real belief in each other and we've built that during the year the confidence is there. I think you have of course the senior players, but even outside of them there are some serious leaders there. The bond is so tight between us, it's a great bond."

Whatever happens on Saturday O'Donghue and his team-mates have gone on a great adventure and they'll leave all they have out on the pitch in Ennis.


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