He’s been a busy man all week and will be busier still on the sideline at Hyde Park but Edwin McGreal has still managed to make time to come onto the guest slot in order to preview Sunday’s decider.
It is very hard to recall a lower key build up to a Connacht final. Were it not for the Roscommon hospital saga and the Enda Kenny will he, won’t he go question, its arguable there would have been precious little talk about the match before the teams were announced.
It isn’t as low key as the run-in to the Galway game but it hasn’t stepped up considerably since then either. I’m still in my 20s, just, so perhaps the 70s and 80s produced a more low-key Connacht final with Mayo playing but certainly not since.
Of course, such things are subjective. You could be at one end of the county and there’d be little talk about the game and fans could be rabid about it at the other end. But I doubt it. I’m from Breaffy and our club is sending out three players on the starting team for a Connacht Senior Final for the first time ever. Richie and Alan Feeney from Castlebar would be part of our circle of friends. But I’m just not seeing the excitement everywhere I go.
Breaffy should be buzzing, all my friends should be talking about nothing but the match with Richie and Alan playing in their first Connacht Final. There’s an interest in Breaffy alright but I’m not sure a massive crowd will go. Among the group of friends, some are talking about going but as many won’t. If these two groups are indifferent, what about parts of the county with little direct involvement?
The die-hards will tog and will be keen but it is the middle ground that has wavered. A feeling that nothing more than a Connacht title is at stake because of a limited team is what some people say is holding them back; more still feel we’ve it all to do to go to Roscommon and win and that a journey to watch Mayo lose is in vain.
Has it really come to that? Are we gone so blasé about a Connacht title? Have we become so short on confidence that some won’t travel to a Connacht Final because they are afraid of a team that were in Division 4 this year?
It is sad to see. I for one am really looking forward to Sunday. I have my doubts about how good the game will be. I’m not extremely confident Mayo will win either. But I’m excited nonetheless. It is a Connacht Final and if people think we have little chance of progressing in the All-Ireland series, is that not all the more reason to cherish the opportunity before us – seventy minutes from a Connacht title? It should be but there’s talk that less than 10,000 Mayo folk will travel. If that turns out to be true, it will be a pity.
Should those that travel do so in expectation, in hope or in trepidation? Certainly not the latter. Roscommon are an improving team but it is also from a low base so that’s a relative statement. Mayo’s inconsistency from game to game is an issue that still hangs over this team. So, too, is the question of how they’ll do in a tight last ten minutes. The Galway game side-stepped that question.
But first to the teams. Both managers named unchanged teams. Many are the people who wonder if Mayo have what it takes to contain the Roscommon full-forward line. Donie Shine, Senan Kilbride and Conor Devaney is a serious line. It is Kilbride I’d be especially worried about. Donie Shine was excellent in last year’s Connacht Final but that was facilitated by the placing of Sligo’s Noel McGuire on him. When Shine was outpacing McGuire, you knew pace was a massive issue for McGuire because Shine is not blessed with pace. No one in the Mayo full-back will be caught for pace by Shine, either running out for the ball or running at them with the ball. He is strong and accurate but manageable.
Devaney is a tricky customer with ability by the bucket-load. It remains to be seen if Keith Higgins or Tom Cunniffe goes on him. I expect Higgins to be given the job of marking Shine but Devaney could be more dangerous, especially with Cunniffe’s tendency to be a loose marker.
Alan Feeney will probably be assigned the toughest gig, picking up Senan Kilbride. Kilbride is strong, a fine footballer and is powerful when running with the ball. Feeney will need to make the most of his good reading of the game because Kilbride will be a serious handful with the ball in hand.
Cathal Cregg is a concern in the half-forward line. To my mind he’s capable of being one of the best wing-forwards in the game. Whether Richie Feeney or Trevor Mortimer is on him, they’ll have to be at their best to break even. That would be plenty from that head to head.
Kevin Higgins might ask different questions of Donie Vaughan than Galway’s Mark Hehir did. Higgins is a strong runner and will be an option for fielding kick-outs too and can shoot well from distance. If Vaughan can be tight, Higgins might not have the pace to get away from him.
To midfield. Aidan and Seamie O’Shea were very effective against Galway. Both will have come on from that game and I think they have the physicality to get the better of the Roscommon midfield of Finneran and Mannion. If Mayo can win the midfield exchanges, the platform will be there for the Mayo forward line to try to do damage against an average Roscommon defence. Big games will be needed from the usual suspects in the half-forward line – Dillon and Moran – while Kevin McLoughlin could find space on Sunday to do a bit of damage running from deep.
Alan Freeman needs a good seventy minutes while Jason Doherty has more to give going on recent form. If both play to their potential, we’ll be well on our way. Cillian O’Connor was far from Mayo’s best player against Galway but he was smart in his use of the ball too. Sunday might see him get more ball closer to goal and do more damage.
But it is hard to be certain about our forward line. Frees remain an issue. If Mayo can be reasonably reliable here it will be a huge boost, not just in terms of scores on the board but in terms of having a settling effect. Mayo could cut loose the next day and blow Roscommon away. Or we could be drawn into a battle and end up finding out a lot more about them. I reckon it will be the latter and we will, as Trevor Mortimer said in The Mayo News this week, find out what this team is made of down the home stretch.
Mayo to shade a tight finish.