With the front door closed by Galway after the Connacht final, Mayo go in search of squeezing themselves through the back door starting with Tyrone tomorrow afternoon. The two-time All Ireland champions, who were kicked to touch at the quarter-final stage of the Ulster championship by Down and have come through the first two rounds of the qualifiers, seeing off Louth and a 13-man Westmeath side last weekend, to arrive in Croke Park with a bit of steam built up.
Mayo will go into the game looking to improve on their five and three form in the qualifier competition since 2001. Last year’s qualifier campaign registered a win over Cavan in McHale Park and a defeat to Derry in Celtic Park. This year a plum tie against Tyrone in Croke Park has been prescribed as the first port of call for Mayo by the luck of the draw.
Talk of the town
Since the Connacht final, discussions have been rife in the county over a number of key positions in the Mayo side with the full back, centre half back, along with full forward positions being ones that could be changed around. Throw in the injuries picked up by Trevor Mortimer in the provincial showpiece and Ronan McGarrity in club action and there are a few places up for grabs or at least positional switches to be made. The performances of Aidan Higgins and Peadar Gardiner when they were brought in to fan the flames before the median whistle in the Connacht final have realistically made them many people’s favourites to be included in the back six. While players may be wearing numbers from two to seven in the Mayo defence, O’Mahony has shown in the past that he is fond of playing the man-marking game with players ordered to follow their man, so the side on paper may not really bear any relation to the way they set themselves up. Things have gone well in training according to the manager since the Connacht final, “We’ve trained well since then, the lads went back to their clubs for a week and we’ve had a few weeks of solid good work behind us since.” On the issue of changes to the side for Saturday, O’Mahony was not in a position to revel the side when he spoke to the Mayo Advertiser yesterday. “It’s still a bit early to say the fifteen that will make up the side, were going to give the lads with knocks as much time as possible to get themselves right. And obviously the lads who came in during the Connacht final and played well have put themselves in with a great shout of making it, and then there are the other lads who have been doing well in training games.”
Filling in the blanks
The loss of captain Ronan McGarrity will be a huge loss in the midfield battle if he fails to start, with O’Mahony having a number of options to fill the space alongside Tom Parsons. James Gill and Pat Harte are more than capable of taking the spot, while David Heaney is another who can do the job if he is released from his defensive duties. While Seamus O’Shea played a number of league games in the pivotal position and he and Parsons formed a formidable midfield partnership for the U21 side this year and would be used to playing alongside each other.
The Mayo front six should include Alan Dillon, Conor Mortimer, Andy Moran and Pat Harte (another who can fill in the midfield if needs be ), with Trevor Mortimer a doubt and Austin O’Malley hauled ashore after not enjoying a good afternoon and perhaps is in line for the chop. Aidan Kilcoyne, after grabbing the Mayo goal in the Connacht final, is in contention, as is the man who could play anywhere on the field at the weekend, Billy Joe Padden, who slotted over two points after being introduced last time out; with Barry Moran still nursing a hand injury Padden could be another option at full forward, or be deployed in a sweeping role around the back line to keep control to clean up any breaks and close down the Tyrone attack at every opportunity. Andy Moran put in a lot of good work when he was played in a more withdrawn role and he could be asked to do that again leaving Mayo with a two man full forward line of Conor Mortimer and Duine Eile beside him leading the attack.
What have we got ourselves in for?
As for the opposition, Mayo have met Tyrone six times since Mickey Harte took over the Ulster men, winning three of the games, losing two and drawing the other. And John O’Mahony was perfectly positioned to see how the 2008 version of Tyrone was shaping up last weekend when he went to see them in action in the qualifiers in Omagh. Mayo covered their bases last weekend with the management team attending the four games which could have thrown up a potential opponent on the weekend. O’Mahony knows it is a big challenge for Mayo, but is not fearful of meeting Tyrone. “I went up and saw them in the flesh last weekend, I’d be familiar with their side from down the years, but it was better to get to see them live rather than on DVD’s. They’re a good side and they can play football, but we’re going to go in their full of confidence on Saturday in our own ability to beat them.” While Mayo have had two games so far in the championship, Tyrone have had four including two epic ties against Down, and this will be their third weekend out on the trot, while Mayo will have been well rested since the Connacht final back on July 13. Tyrone were a side that over the last few years would have sent shivers down most Mayo supporters backs, but they have failed to catch fire since their second All Ireland title win in 2005, due to injury and retirements, and Mayo will go into the game fully confident in their own abilities to reach the elite eight stage of the competition and be making the trip to Croke Park again next week. The last meeting of the sides was in the National League in Omagh back in April with the home-side running out two-point winners, by 0-15 to 0-13, a tie at the tail end of the league with the division one status all ready taken care of, come 4pm tomorrow it will all be a lot different.