Under 21’s to claim four in a row

INJURY DOUBT: Mayo's Cathal Freeman

INJURY DOUBT: Mayo's Cathal Freeman

TIME has got the better of TIALTNGO this Friday. I had hoped to do an extensive preview of tomorrow’s Connacht U-21 final between Mayo and Sligo but I’ll have to keep it short.

First things first throw in is at 5pm in Markievicz Park and, like the Roscommon game, I’d hope Mayo won’t be outnumbered in the stands. But hope and expectation are two different things and it’s probably a bigger occasion for Sligo and that, coupled with home advantage, should mean they’ll be out in force.

But its important that any Mayos that can make the effort to go to Sligo do go – this team deserves support and believe me they have the potential to make an impact at national level IF they get over Sligo.

And they’re strong favourites to do so – priced at 2/5 with Paddy Powers. Sligo will be better than many people give them credit for. They beat Galway in last year’s quarter-final before only losing to Roscommon after a late comeback from Michael Ryan’s side. Roscommon, remember, were denied a draw against Mayo in the final only by the width of the crossbar.

Eight of that Sligo team is still underage and while they haven’t had much success underage as a county, a lot of this team will have played with Connacht Colleges Senior A and B football with St Attracta’s of Tubbercurry and Summerhill of Sligo.

Keep an eye on Neil Ewing of Drumcliffe/Rosses Point who will likely man the centre of defence and impressed this year in the Sigerson Cup for NUI Galway. Midfield duo Stephen Henry (Tourlestrane) and Stephen Gilmartin of Tubbercurry will give Mayo plenty of it while in attack centre-half forward Gary Gaughan (Tourlestrane), corner-forward Stephen Coen of St Mary’s in Sligo town and full-forward Eoin McHugh of St Molaise Gaels in the north of the county will all take watching.

The Yeats men also have a serious netminder in Conor O’Mahony.

Mayo’s injury concerns focus on corner-back Michael Gallagher who is definitely out and wing-forward Cathal Freeman who is touch and go. Gallagher didn’t play in the semi-final, where Eoghan Reilly came in and deputised very competently so that injury is not so much a concern as Freeman.

Freeman is a key man for Mayo and while they managed without him for large parts of the Roscommon game, his industry and playmaking abilities are vital to Mayo’s game plan.

It also remains to be seen if Claremorris’ John Broderick will be able to hold off clubmate Sean Prendergast who did so well when he came on for Broderick in the semi-final. Prendergast played at wing-back with Kevin McLoughlin taking Broderick’s spot in the corner. That would be the best line-up in my opinion but Broderick is capable too, if management keep faith with him.

All in all Mayo can win their fourth Connacht title in a row if they bring the same performance levels into this game as against Galway and Roscommon WITHOUT their capacity to throw away big leads. Tom Parsons can dominate the middle of the field, Aidan O’Shea can dicate matters on the forty and if the full-forward line, Jason Doherty in particular, can be as productive as in the Roscommon game, we’ll be celebrating come Saturday evening

But don’t take it for granted.

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