Don’t pack the jersey away just yet

OUR senior men may be out of the All-Ireland race and the county may still be subdued from the defeat to Meath but Mayo folk still have plenty to keep them busy if they want to.

The Minor men and the senior Ladies may operate off broadway but both have provided much joy. Last year’s Minors fell just short against Tyrone last September after a really unexpected run while the Ladies of Mayo gave us some great times with four All-Irelands from 1999-2003 at a time when Mayo All-Ireland winning medals were as rare as hen’s teeth. Oh wait, that’s still the case.

The Ladies are definitely operating as underdogs these last few years as everyone skips to Cork’s tune. The Rebelettes have dominated the game and are looking for a four-in-a-row this year. It would be a surprise to most if anything but that was the outcome but Mayo are still there in with a fighting chance and it would be a fool to dismiss their chances just yet.

Family commitments meant TIALTNGO wasn’t able to make it to Ballymahon today for the quarter-final clash with Tyrone so I had to make do with the television. Judging by the crowd at the Longford venue it would appear a lot more made a similar decision. Which is a pity. I’d like to think that now that Mayo are in the last four that Mayo football folk would get behind them. About 30,000 of us travelled to the 1999 final win over Waterford when Mayo’s victory gave the whole county a massive lift. Lets be having ye again folks!

Anyway back to the football. This year Mayo have been able to welcome back Emma Mullin and Triona McNicholas to the team and they’ve added badly needed zest to a forward line far too dependent on Cora Staunton in years gone by.

Staunton is as lethal as ever – believe me when I say Ladies football will never see her like again – but while she is hard to stop it does become easy if she is the only threat. Mullin, and to a lesser extent, McNicholas, keep defenders guessing and that has helped Cora find a bit more room for herself.

Certainly Mayo will need these kind of options if and when they come up against Cork. In last week’s win over Laois Mullin kicked 1-6 from play, Cora kicked 0-12. Not a bad return from your inside duo. Triona McNicholas chipped in with 1-1.

ONWARDS: Cora Staunton celebrates Mayo's third goal which sealed their place in the semi-finals.

ONWARDS: Cora Staunton celebrates Mayo's third goal which sealed their place in the semi-finals.

Staunton, while not at her best (when she is stand back and admire), still ended up with 1-5 today. Emma Mullin wasn’t quite brilliant either but Mayo still won with their vaunted inside line off form. The fact that Mayo have room for improvement in this sector will frighten whoever they have to face in the semi-final.

Further back Mayo have felt the pinch by the losses of Helena Lohan, Nuala O Se and Sharon McGing in defence but, by the same token, players like Kathryn Sullivan, Aoife Loftus and Nicola Hurst have come on stream and are improving all the time.

Above all else though it was Noelle Tierney who was imperious in defence. The Carnacon defender excelled at full-back today on the vaunted Sarah Connelly.

Mayo had to line out today without Caroline McGing and Claire O’Hara in defence but when they get both of those girls back, they will have serious options in the rearguard. Mention too must be made of Yvonne Byrne who made two crucial saves in goal.

Claire Egan has been moved to defence too, from her usual stomping ground of midfield. She looked comfortable and commanding today at centre-half back, blunting the impact of no less a player than Gemma Begley. We think Egan’s best position might have been found.

At midfield Sinead Hughes and captain Martha Carter provide industry with both able to improve also.

More might be needed of the half-forward line but Fiona McHale, Lisa Cafferkey and/or Sinead Cafferkey and Natasha Beegan (Beegan played wing-back on Saturday) have plenty of ability to improve so I reckon Kevin Reidy will be quietly pleased with the progress of his team.

Cork remain the standard by which teams will strive to match. I reckon if Mayo avoid Cork in the semi-final, win that game and show a decent improvement from today, they’ll go into a final with a chance of causing an upset. But, like we tend to do with the men, that kind of thinking is getting ahead of ourselves.

But it could be an interesting summer yet.

Raymond Dempsey certainly won’t be letting his minors get ahead of themselves despite being joint favourites to win the All-Ireland with Armagh. Mayo now know their semi-final opposition in two weeks time after Down made light of the swine-flu outbreak in their squad to defeat Dublin by two points in Cavan on Saturday evening.

Dempsey’s side don’t look spectacular but, much like last year’s group, they appear to be a team capable of improving all the time. I’ve long mentioned the ability of Ballintubber’s Cillian O’Connor and he’s looked the part this year, his first at the grade. Impressive too have been Killala’s Andrew Farrell – a workmanlike wing-forward with football ability to boot. Further back Shane McDermott, Keith Rodgers and David Gavin have caught the eye.

We’ve yet to see Aidan Walsh, this year’s captian, shine. That will happen yet and the minors have every chance of being in a September decider again. Hopefully it will be a different outcome. But we’ll worry about Down first. Certainly Ray Dempsey won’t be talking of September.

So there you have it folks. Plenty of Mayo interest still in All-Ireland competitions. Don’t put that Mayo jersey away just yet!

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