Mayo can’t afford to be cocky
A CONNACHT title is the summit of their dreams. Beyond that there is no promise. They have won three, a massive 42 titles fewer than the team they hope to dethrone on Sunday, but win or lose, their aspirations will then recede.
A qualifier could be won, maybe – depending on the draw – even a quarter-final. But for Sligo, Connacht itself is fulfilment.
Once, way back in 1922, they beat Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, but never got to play in the final because of an objection to their provincial win ... which they lost.
So the target is now to build on the three titles they have won, and having routed fancied Roscommon in their opening game, the champions are now their quarry, and a fascinating target.
In 2007 Sligo picked up their third title, overcoming a Galway side that had already eliminated Mayo in the first round. It closed a gap of over 30 years.
When they last locked horns with Mayo, in 2012, at the scene of Sunday’s tussle, Mayo struggled to win by two points. Only four of that Sligo team – Ross Donovan, Neil Ewing, David Kelly, and Adrian Marren – lined out against Roscommon a few weeks back. Sweeping changes by new manager Niall Carew have honed their ambition.
Of the Sligo side that triumphed over Mayo by four points in the quarter-final at Markievicz Park two years earlier (2010), only Mark Breheny and David Kelly remain. Compare that statistic with the eight of that Mayo team who will be in action next Sunday, and you get an idea of the gulf in experience that divides them. On that June day five years ago, Aidan O’Shea was sprung from the bench as a replacement for Enda Varley.
Breheny, Kelly and Donovan also served back in 2008, and David Clarke, Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, Tom Cunniffe, Tom Parsons and Andy Moran did likewise for Mayo who won comfortably at MacHale Park.
There is even a link with Sunday’s game stretching all the way back to Mayo’s semi-final win over the Yeats county at Castlebar in 2001 when David Clarke, still guarding the posts, was then sub goalie.
What’s driving this Sligo team is raw, eager youth with a nice blend of experience, a team that mocks the notion that because they are Sligo they are inferior. Roscommon paid dearly for such posturing; Mayo must not repeat that lapse of judgement.
Sligo lost the midfield battle against the Rossies, but compensated by winning a lot of possession between the two half lines. Clever use of the ball by Kelly, Marren and Pat Hughes had Roscommon struggling to keep pace.
Debutants Daniel Maye and Eoin Flanagan were assured and effective in defence where Ross Donovan, their only defender from 2012, was the linchpin. Support came freely, too, from wing forward Cristóir Davey, another new enthusiastic recruit.
Sunday’s is Mayo’s first experience of the new Yeats side, and by comparison they are crusted old battlers. But neither experience nor muscle will earn them a second quintet of Connacht titles if they are not mentally prepared to treat this third division league team with genuine respect. Experience has no value for the overconfident.
Mayo were arguably a better side three years ago when Sligo held them to a couple of points in Hyde Park. There are other remainders of past surprise results from their meetings. For instance: 2000, when Sligo won by three; 2010, when they won with four to spare, and in 2001, when Mayo barely scraped through by a point.
Mayo take the field on Sunday unimpeded by injury. With three rounds of the club championship completed, that’s a fortunate outcome for the brave decision by management to raise no objection to the last two rounds so close to the final.
Having watched Sligo dismantle Roscommon, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly will be aware of the source of Sligo’s inspiration. As a consequence, their more agile and experienced defenders will be assigned to bridle the enthusiasm of Kelly, Hughes and Marren.
No curious shuffling of the defence is necessary to achieve that goal. To Tom Cunniffe, doubtlessly, if only for his speed off the mark, Kevin Keane and Keith Higgins will be thrown the reins, although Ger Cafferkey’s technique in dispossessing opponents must be given serious consideration.
The half-back line (Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan and Colm Boyle or Chris Barrett) will be vital to stemming the flow to the Sligo full-forward line. And midfield’s role in a similar exercise is also an imperative. If measured by the semi-final selection, that pairing will be Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons.
Barry Moran is of course challenging for a midfield berth and, now that he is back in harness and impressing for his club, I expect an imminent recall to the squad for Ballintubber’s Jason Gibbons.
The inference to be drawn from Noel Connelly’s injury-free announcement is that Diarmuid O’Connor is not bothered by the wrist injury he picked up in the semi-final and is ready for battle. The rest of the forward line selects itself around key men Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin.
Pitched against Mayo’s accumulated experience, their power and technical sophistication, Sligo can’t be expected to topple the champions. But young, uninhibited opposition primed to play with abandon, to give it a lash, can rattle cocky mindsets. Ask Roscommon.
Delving through the archives pays off again
FURTHER affirmation about the winners of the Connacht final of 1910 comes from Tourmakeady club secretary Michael Lang.
He writes that while ‘The DBA Complete Handbook of Gaelic Games’ gives the 1910 final to Galway, victors by 1-3 to 1-2 over Roscommon, Wikipedia contradict the result crediting Mayo with the victory on a scoreline of Mayo 1-4, Galway 0-5.
“The Connacht Tribune (Nov 5) reports the 1910 final as Mayo 1-3 Galway 0-4. The same score is reported in The Western People (Nov 5). But a correspondent to The Connacht Tribune the following week (Nov 12) corrects the score as Mayo 1-4 Galway 0-5,” writes Michael.
About Sunday’s final: “If Mayo win, one thing we can be certain of is that they will become the first team to win the Nestor Cup five years in a row.
“It was first presented in 1957 in the middle of Galway’s 1956-’60 winning run, so Galway only lifted the Nestor Cup four times during that period, a feat equalled again by Galway 1963-’66 and Roscommon 1977-’80.”
Michael expects Mayo to face a tough battle.
“Mayo have their weaknesses and if they are complacent Sligo could pounce. As a half-Sligo/half-Mayo man, I’ll be neutral and hope we get a good game of football.
“Connacht final day will also be historic because I think it is the first time since 1954 that Sligo have contested the senior and minor finals in same year.
He concludes: “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. In the course of researching our history book, it was very interesting to read some of your articles written in our maiden year 1966!”
I was a bit raw then, Michael. Thanks for the information. The Nestor Cup piece is one for the quiz books.