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The last eight of the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship are now known after this evenings final round of group games. The draw for the quarter finals will take place tomorrow in MacHale Park with four seeded sides, Breaffy, Castlebar Mitchels, Ballintubber and Knockmore and the other quartet of qualifiers, Ballaghaderreen, Aghamore, Garrymore and Crossmolina Deel Rovers.
Garry’ win southern shootout
Who is ever going to forget Mayo Day 2016? Not one Mayo GAA fan that's for sure after the heroics of our U21 team in reaching the promised land and claiming the county's fifth All-Ireland title at this level. Was I confident before throw in? Not really, we knew Brian Reape was out and I heard on the grapevine that fullback Seamus Cuniffe was very doubtful because of a hamstring, and that our most influential player Diarmuid O'Connor might not be able to give his all because of a fractured finger sustained against Dublin in the semi-final. We couldn't possibly win with three key players missing or not at 100 per cent was my gut instinct. I was relieved to see Cuniffee and O'Connor taking their positions for the throw in. The buzz in Cusack Park was surreal, Mayo fans making up at least 7,000 of the almost 8,000 crowd.
With six minutes left on the clock in Cusack Park in Ennis, it looked like it might finally go wrong for this marvellous Mayo team when Brian Coakley kicked his fifth point of the day to draw Cork level with Mayo with the score 3-7 to 1-13. Cork were coming and the momentum was with them at this stage. Peter Kelleher was causing havoc inside the Mayo defensive line and the legs seemed to be going in some of those in green and red.
No matter what the competition, no matter what the grade, nothing beats the excitement of All-Ireland final day. Tomorrow just happens to be a big one in the GAA calendar. The Mayo u21s travel to Ennis to take on Munster champions Cork 10 years on from their last victory at this grade against the same opposition at the same venue. The players would have felt the buzz all week, our senior team have had to take a back seat for the last few weeks, now it's all about the U21s.
Ten years ago Mayo met Cork in the All Ireland u21 final in Ennis, and tomorrow afternoon both sides will meet once more in the same venue for the Clarke Cup at stake yet again. Mayo come into the final on the back of their first provincial title since 2009 and a heroic come from behind win late on against Dublin in the semi-final in Tullamore a fortnight ago.
For those of you who have ever been to Old Trafford to watch Man Utd I am sure you are familiar with the song about “never dying” in honour of the club’s resurrection after the tragic Munich Air disaster. I know there has not been such a tragedy in Mayo football terms but such a song would be very appropriate about Michael Solan’s Mayo u21 team. They never give up. They never die.
There was no need for the Mayo faithful who made the 300km round trip to Tullamore to switch on their radios on the way home if there was more than one happy soul making the trip back west on Saturday evening. For they had plenty food for thought and conversation after seeing Mayo produce one of the gutsiest comebacks in memory to edge into the All Ireland u21 final on Saturday, April 30 against Cork.
Goalkeepers are a different breed from the normal, the ones whose mistakes are remembered far more than saves they made, so they have to have a special bit of confidence in themselves, and Mayo's U21 goalkeeper Matthew Flanagan is no different. The Balla man has the strange history of playing for the county's u21 side in championship action before he did the same for the minor side back in 2014 and his have it a go attitude shines through when talking about that occurance. "It was strange, it just happened quickly, I was training with the minors and I got a call two weeks before the championship, they had a few injuries and asked would I come into the group and I said 'sure look, why not' and we hadn't the best day, but it was great to come in and get the game, sure I was only 17 at the time I think."
On a weekend that saw Mayo hang on for dear life to their division one status, you would imagine that would be this week's main topic of conversation, however the Mayo u21's rise from the dead in Markievicz Park against Roscommon in the Connacht final shades the limelight from their senior counterparts in what was a very satisfactory weekend all round for Mayo GAA. We all remember the 2013 minor final between Mayo and Roscommon for Liam Irwin’s stunning goal and Mayo hanging on for dear life at the end, the u21 final was a repeat, only three years later of course, with a lot more recognisable and familiar players on show.