ALL roads lead to Ennis next Sunday as the Mayo U-21 footballers bid to write themselves into the county’s GAA folklore.
It’s been 23 long years since the Clarke Cup last resided in Mayo and after losing five finals in the interim, an All-Ireland title at this grade is long overdue.
The Mayo management team of Pat Holmes, Noel Connelly and Michéal Collins have announced a clean bill of health ahead of the final.
Therefore it seems almost certain that the same team that started the semi-final win over Tyrone will be selected again for Sunday.
If this is the case then the same team will have been selected for the last three games, while 14 of that side also started the opening round win over Leitrim. The philosophy of the Mayo management is very much, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
The team’s path to the final has been relatively straightforward, with the obvious exception of the extra-time victory over Tyrone.
Michael Conroy’s late, injury-time free was all that separated the teams at the finish that day and his call-up to the senior panel is proof positive that the Davitts forward is in rude health.
Aidan Kilcoyne has also been added to Mickey Moran’s senior squad but, with the exception of the U-21’s match against Roscommon, the Knockmore forward has struggled to impose himself in recent weeks against both Galway and Tyrone.
Elsewhere in the attack, Mark Ronaldson is playing good football these days and has scored Mayo’s only two goals of the campaign.
Last year’s Minor captain Aidan Campbell also turned in an excellent performance against Tyrone and is a clever, hard-working half-forward who can kick a point too.
However, both Joe Dillon and Marcus Hannick will need to chip in with a few scores to compliment their fetching-and-carrying work, and also to take the scoring pressure off the likes of Conroy.
But to do that, Mayo will need the ball, and herein lies the winning – and potential losing – of this game.
Barry Moran has played U-21 now for three years and should be more than capable of dictating affairs with a little help from young partner, Seamus O’Shea.
Defensively, Mayo look sound. Trevor Howley and Keith Higgins are more than just corner-backs while last year’s Minors are able to mix it with the best of them. Colm Boyle is also a valuable attacking outlet.
But what of Cork? The Munster champions came through last Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against Laois by two points.
Centre-forward Caragh Keane scored the goal that ultimately won the match but the Rebels racked up 16 wides throughout the hour and also missed a penalty. But still won.
Senior panellists Michael Shields, Fintan Gould, Daniel Goulding and John Hayes are the marquee names in this Cork side, with the latter trio all part of an attack that looks particularly dangerous on paper.
Kerry, Tipperary and Waterford were all dismissed during their Munster Championship campaign and hopes are high that this team can end a 12 year wait for an U-21 All-Ireland in the county.
Ironically, that last title came at Mayo’s expense. We think that Sunday can see the Clarke Cup returning to this county in the hands of Keith Higgins.
All-Ireland U-21 FC Final
Mayo v Cork
Sunday, May 7 at 2.30pm
Cusack Park, Ennis