The Connacht minor football championship gets underway in earnest at the weekend, with our U18s playing Roscommon, the 2006 All-Ireland champions at this grade on Saturday evening at McHale Park (throw-in 7pm). On the other side of the draw, the current minor All-Ireland holders, Galway, clash with Sligo. Unlike the U21s, the minor provincial championship structure is quite a convoluted one but, happily, those helpful people on the Club Mayo Dublin website have provided a very lucid explanation of how it’s being run off.
Differences between minor and U21 don’t end there, of course, because although we’re enjoying a significant spell of provincial dominance in the latter grade – where this year’s Connacht title was our third in a row – it’s now 7 years since we last won the Connacht minor title. Oddly enough, that 2001 win saw us complete a hat-trick of minor provincial crowns so I hope this isn’t some kind of harbinger for our future prospects at U21 level. As the minor grade (unlike the U21) allows for a back door, we have managed to make some progress over the last few years, notably in 2005 where we made it to the final only to lose comprehensively to Down in that year’s decider.
When Mayo were beaten in last year’s Connacht semi-final, manager Ray Dempsey had a fair bit to say, and with some justification, about how the provincial championship was structured (with the then reigning All-Ireland champions Roscommon grouped with Sligo and Leitrim as a ‘weaker’ county and so getting to face Mayo with two championship matches already under their belt). Interviewed in this week’s Mayo News, Ray seems happier with the team’s preparation in advance of this year’s campaign but he’s still promising nothing: “Mayo have no God-given right to win Connacht titles”, he says. While that’s factually true, it’d still be nice to land the odd one all the same. Starting this year, like.