We’re counting down the hours now ahead of this evening’s All-Ireland Minor football Championship final. It’s a first ever all-Connacht Championship decider, in which we play Galway. Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon is the venue, throw-in is 7.15pm and the match is live on TG4, with live radio commentary on Midwest as well. Niall Cullen from Fermanagh is the ref.
We named our team this morning for the game, as expected going with an unchanged first fifteen, for what will be the fourth successive outing. That’s no surprise – this has been a very settled outfit right from the start of this campaign back in April and there would be no logic in altering at this stage what is a winning side.
We’re coming into this evening’s Tom Markham Cup decider with seven straight wins, our 100% record in the round-robin stage in Connacht earning us direct passage to the provincial final. There we beat tonight’s opponents, as we’d also done decisively in the group game, and since then we’ve enjoyed wins over Kildare in the quarters and Kerry in the semi-final.
A fair bit has been made of Galway’s three losses coming into this final. To me, that makes little sense. This competition – quite rightly, as it’s an underage development grade – had a round-robin element to it and in that, and their subsequent semi-final win over Sligo, Galway earned their place in the Connacht final and, with it, passage to the All-Ireland Series.
Since their provincial decider defeat to us, Galway have beaten a well-regarded Dublin team who’d just won Leinster and then they got the better of Derry, who’d defeated Munster champions Cork. There’s no question but that the young Tribesmen deserve their place in this evening’s final, nor is there any doubt but that they’re in it on merit.
In largely the same vein, much has also been made about the supposed difficulty in beating the same team three times. Really, where did that one come from?
It’s not as if Championships regularly throw up triple meetings, certainly not in the quantity that would enable anyone to draw conclusions about the outcome of the third meeting. Maybe, instead, Occam’s Razor might better apply – we’ve won all our games to date and have beaten them twice already so, all other things being equal, there must be a very good chance we’re going to beat them again this evening.
Supporters – particularly those on our side of the fence – are, I sense, projecting quite a bit of hope and expectation in the direction of these young players as they head into this game. I don’t think this is either right or fair.
As I mentioned on the podcast after they’d beaten Kerry the other week, these lads are so young that their only direct memories of the Mayo football team will have been everything that has happened since 2011, with the county challenging at the top table year after year. All our old failings are, literally, history to them.
In the same way, the searing final defeats we’ve suffered since 2011 are events they’ve witnessed through the eyes of a child. Legally, they’re still children now so us adults should be very careful before we load our adult expectations onto them.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be great – wonderful, in fact – if this Mayo Minor team win this evening. But it’s not their job – as the Apollo 8 mission was credited in doing in relation to 1968 – to somehow rescue 2022 for us. It’s an underage game of football, our lads will be looking to win it – in the same way Galway will too – and we need to leave them at it, without freighting the occasion with further unnecessary ballast.
In this respect, I thought Conor Mortimer put it perfectly this morning. Wishing his nephew, Rio (Kenny’s lad), all the best for this evening, he said simply “enjoy it and do your best.”
That’s exactly the kind of sentiment we need to impart on Seán Deane’s young charges as they head for Dr Hyde Park this evening. They’re a great bunch of lads, who are a credit to themselves, their families, their clubs, community and county.
We’re all behind them this evening, we hope they savour the atmosphere to the full and that they express their talents to the best of their ability. If they do that, the result will look after itself. All the very best to each and every one of them. Up Mayo.