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Sligo are the only team on the minds of Mayo players and management as they prepare an assault on the 2017 Connacht championship against the Yeats County in MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon. Both Stephen Rochford and his captain Cillian O’Connor were quick to shoot down any notions of Mayo being talked up as Nestor or Sam Maguire cup contenders until those trophies were on the line in a given game. Until then the name of the game is entirely the opposition in front of them.
Mayo manager Michael Solan made seven changes from the side that started the previous week against Donegal with Marcus Park, Gary McHale, James Kelly, Cathal Hennelly, Ryan O’Donoghue, Barry Duffy and Colm Reape all coming into the starting 15 for this North West Cup Final against Sligo.
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. And Mayo boss Stephen Rochford was not moving from that script ahead of Sunday's All Ireland final showdown against Dublin. "It will take one massive, massive, effort - and rightly so. How else do you expect to win an All Ireland if you are not going to take out the best team, and that’s the position we find ourselves in" were his parting words to the press before the day.
They've been with the team right from the start and on Sunday the Mayo fans will play an important role in getting their side over the line come 5pm. The boost that the side gets from the full-throated following in green and red isn't lost on Mayo manager Stephen Rochford who said he knows that there's no need to issue a call to arms for the supporters who've been with his side right from the off this year. "I'd like to thank the Mayo supporters for their great support throughout the year and over the years. They have stood by the team throughout the year from our first league game in Cork, there was a huge Mayo crowd there at that, and the other away league games, huge crowds attended the games.
It has been nine years since Mayo last competed in the All Ireland senior final and seven years since they last took part in a semifinal. On Saturday evening Frank Browne's charges are looking to take another step towards claiming the county's first All Ireland title since 2003.
They made it hard for themselves by hitting wide after wide in the second half despite playing with a strong breeze behind their backs, but Mayo booked their place in the All Ireland u21 B Hurling Championship Final on September 10 on Saturday afternoon in Castlebar.
Hard work, determination and belief along with a fair chunk of skill was what won the day for Mayo in MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon as they claimed their first Connacht senior title in six years with a stunning display against Galway. Mayo manager Frank Browne couldn’t hide the delight with the effort his side put in speaking after the game he told us “It was probably a fair result it was probably touch and go there, early in the first ten to 15 minutes in the first half it took us a while to settle, but then our power and our physicality, our tackling and our hunger took over. But you know what after being beaten four years in a row if you’re not hungry today, you’re coming to the wrong place, all the 50/50 balls all the really tight ones we won. I’d love the people to know just how good a group of people these people are, they are good honest, decent Mayo people and they just so, so wanted this. They ran their legs to stumps out there you know, we got very tired in the last ten minutes you can enjoy it.”
This Sunday afternoon, MacHale Park will play host to the classic Connacht final pairing of Mayo and Galway in the Connacht Ladies Gaelic Football Championship. For Mayo they will be looking to turn over Galway at this stage for the first time in four years, while the Tribeswomen are on a "drive for five" in the province.
For the first time since 2010, Mayo will not be preparing for the show piece occasion in Connacht after Galway came to Castlebar and knocked them off their perch with a closing surge that left the five-in-a-row Connacht champions backed into the corner and unable to swing their way out of it, as Galway hit them with body blow after body blow before the bell was finally rung and the maroon and white mens arms was raised in victory.
With the first championship hurdle out of the way in London, Mayo are back on home soil this weekend and the visit of the old rivals from south of the border is the main attraction. For Mayo manager Stephen Rochford this is the day he's been waiting for since he took over the side late last year.