Tomorrow, Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon, 2pm, Ref: Cormac Reilly, Meath – Live on TV3
Latest from the medics and management…Just the one change in the Mayo team with Alan Freeman the man to make way from his corner-forward berth allowing Enda Varley to fill the number 13 shirt after impressing as a sub on his last run out.
MAYO: David Clarke (Ballina Stephenites); Kevin Keane (Westport), Ger Cafferkey (Ballina Stephenites), Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis); Lee Keegan (Westport), Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe), Colm Boyle (Davitts); Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels), Danny Geraghty (Ballintubber); Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore), Cillian O’Connor (Ballintubber), Alan Dillon (Ballintubber); Enda Varley (Garrymore), Andy Moran (Ballaghadereen) Jason Doherty (Burrishoole).
Eastern Harps midfielder Tony Taylor replaces Eugene Mullen at midfield in the only change from the side that defeated Galway at the semi-final stage. Taylor was introduced in the 45th minute of that clash in Pearse Stadium for Mullen and made a positive contribution that persuaded manager Kevin Walsh to hand him a starting berth.
SLIGO: Phillip Greene (St. Johns); Neil Ewing (Drumcliffe/Rosses Point), Johnny Martyn (St Mary’s), Ross Donovan (Eastern Harps); Charles Harrison (St. John’s), Mark Quinn (St. Molaise Gaels), Paul McGovern (Eastern Harps); Shane McManus (Geevagh), Tony Taylor (Eastern Harps); Alan Costello (Coolera/Strandhill), Pat Hughes (Geevagh), Brendan Egan (Tourlestrane); Mark Breheny (St. Marys), Adrian Marren (Curry), David Kelly (Tubbercurry).
Checking the odds…Mayo are strong favorites at 1/3 with Sligo priced at 10/3. The handicap betting has Mayo (-3) at evens.
Clues from the form guide…Mayo have maintained their progress this season in the wake of their rise to prominence in James Horan’s debut campaign in 2011. The league brought an extended campaign with a victory over Kerry that nourished confidence levels and a defeat against Cork that reminded them of the development they still needed to make to their game. Their only championship assignment to date taught them little as they trounced Leitrim but at least they posted a healthy scoring total. Of course the big question is whether matters off the pitch will have had an unsettling effect on the squad after a blaze of controversy erupted when Conor Mortimer departed the panel.
Sligo may not have made a concerted charge for promotion in the league but they banished that form and the lethargy that characterised their displays in 2011, in a blinding semi-final performance against Galway. It was a hugely impressive performance, redolent of the stylish football they produced in 2010 when dumping Mayo and Galway out of the Connacht championship. They showed mental fortitude to turn a four-point interval deficit into a five-point full-time advantage. And the loss was a reminder of the managerial talents of Kevin Walsh as well, as his native Galway had entered the game on the back of crushing Roscommon.
The game breakers are…On the week when one of the squad’s headline acts walked away from the game, the spotlight will fall on a Mayo forward line who no longer have Conor Mortimer challenging them for a place. They can draw comfort from the continued leadership of Alan Dillon and Andy Moran, the graft that Kevin McLoughlin brings to the table and the maturity of Cillian O’Connor in becoming an attacking figurehead. They are going to need starting corner-forwards Enda Varley and Jason Doherty to shine in the scoring stakes though if they are going to become a team that moves from top six to top three.
It will be interesting to see whether the Mayo midfield, a sector that has come under the microscope, fares here given that this will be a tougher test than the game against Leitrim was for Barry Moran and Danny Geraghty. Sligo have brought Tony Taylor in to boost their effort in that area and have plenty other facets to call on. They have a couple of tenacious defenders in Charlie Harrison and Ross Donovan, the playmaking skills of Alan Costello, David Kelly back to the electric form of 2010 and Adrian Marren a hit man who can hurt the Mayo defence.
Gazing into the crystal ball…The 2010 season marked a low point for Mayo and the rot started with that Connacht championship loss to Sligo. Two years on is a chance for them to show how far they have come. They will be guarded against complacency following that defeat and there have been important changes in personnel to their side since. That coupled with the shift in attitude under Horan’s watch should prove critical. The form Sligo showed against Galway means they are in a confident state but despite the shadow cast by matters off the field this week, Mayo have done enough to convince us that they have travelled to a position where this is a game that they will win.