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Juniors ready to take final step

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Connacht Junior Championship Final

Juniors ready to take final step

PREVIEW
Cormac O’Malley

Mayo’s juniors are bidding to be fourth time lucky this week.
Mayo will be looking for redemption in next Friday’s Connacht Junior Championship Final against Roscommon in Ballyhaunis. Three times in the last three years Billy Fitzpatrick’s team has advanced to the provincial decider only to be agonisingly denied on each occasion by a single point. This week it is their nearest and dearest neighbours Roscommon who stand in their way of capturing the title. Yet again, another tense, tight game is in prospect.A stern examination of Mayo character was given – and passed – during their narrow one point victory in the semi-final recently against last year’s champions Sligo. This has given Mayo’s experienced manager cause for optimism. However, that is balanced by the loss of two key members of the forward line from that victory – plus the ineligibility of the dynamic Michael Conroy – has also caused a reshuffle.Still, Fitzpatrick (pictured) believes that will not disturb his team’s preparations unduly.Billy Fitzpatrick

“We are missing both Niall Lydon and Alan Costello who have gone to the United States and they are both big losses. Niall was our centre-forward the last day and Alan hit three points. We had also hoped that Michael Conroy would be available but his appearance for the seniors against London ruled him out for us. But we have a good panel of players and we will field a strong team. The return of Pat Casey is a big boost and we are looking forward to the final.”The team have looked very impressive in challenge games recently and Fitzpatrick is quite content with the way training has progressed. “We are meeting once a week, and playing matches at the weekend, and the players are also training with their clubs. I’m very happy with the level of preparation overall”. Roscommon manager, Eamon McManus, who is also a member of John Maughan’s backroom team for the senior outfit, is keen to play down his squad’s chances ahead of Friday’s showdown.
“We were very lucky to beat Leitrim in the last round,” he explained. “We were slow to start and it was only a strong second half showing that got us through in the end. Since then four of that starting team were involved in the game in New York (for the seniors), and added to that we have a couple of injuries.”
A bonus for the Roscommon management team has been the discovery of several players who were selected for the junior team but made such an impact that they was drafted into the senior side for the Connacht Championship fixture win over New York. These included Richard Donner, who also lined out the county U-21s.
McManus considers this good for both teams. “We called up Richard, who I would have known from the minors, for the junior side but he really impressed at training and his form was rewarded by his inclusion on the seniors.
“This has given all the boys on the panel a boost as it shows that good form will be rewarded. John [Maughan] takes a keen interest in the junior set-up, and everyone is really looking forward about the upcoming final and, hopefully, giving it our best shot.”
McManus also admitted being slightly envious at the level of continuity in the Mayo set-up. “Billy Fitz has been at the helm there for a few years now and that can really help, especially when you have the same players in the panel. We don’t know a whole lot about the Mayo team but, no doubt, it will be a challenge.”
Fitzpatrick acknowledges it has been hard to gain information on his opposition as well but is concentrating on his own charges for now and making up for lost opportunities. “We are ready for a tough game, but we are determined to make up for the disappointments of the last few years.”
With Derek O’Dea and Brendan Prendergast forming a solid defensive spine, and Richie Feeney(injury permitting) and Ronan McNamara a formidable midfield partnership, Mayo look well-equipped to command these key areas.
However, the loss of Messrs Lydon, Costello and Conroy will stretch the resources of Billy Fitz’, Michael John Mullin, James Mitchell and Ger Feeney. Still, Paul Doherty, Rory Hannick and Enda McManamon are playing good football these days and the arrival of the likes of Charlestown’s Ollie Conway and Belmullet’s Andrew Howard to this department will give an extra dimension.
It should be enough to end a rotten losing run in finals.

FIXTURE
Connacht JFC Final
Mayo v Roscommon
Friday, June 9
Ballyhaunis at 7.30pm
Referee: R Mc Brien (Leitrim)

{mospagebreak title=McNamara back on centre stage} 

McNamara back on centre stage

Mayo’s Ronan McNamara is looking forward to Friday’s final.

Interview
Cormac O’Malley


HONESTY is a refreshing trait. And Ronan McNamara has it in spades.
When questioned as to how he thinks Mayo will do in this week’s Connacht Final against Roscommon, the towering Davitts midfielder does not hesitate or bluff. His answer is straightforward and simple. “I think we’ll win,” he says. “We should win.”
It is not that the former county underage star is being dismissive or disparaging of his primrose and blue opponents, but rather he is just being honest and extremely confident in his own ability, and that of his team-mates. “We have a very strong team and panel and I’d say we should be strong enough to win.
“I haven’t been involved with the Juniors before so I’m not really sure how strong Roscommon will be, but our squad is starting to gel and play good football. We weren‘t at our best against Sligo in the semi-final but, thankfully, we got there in the end and will be stronger the next day.”
McNamara (23), who is currently nursing a sore groin but is expected to be fully fit for the clash, did as much as anyone to help Mayo overcome the challenge of the Yeats County in the previous round. He contributed an impressive three points from midfield. Not bad in any man’s language.
His free-taking is a massive weapon in the midfielder’s armoury, and is lethal from distance. “Alan Costello [who will be absent on Friday] takes most of the frees close in and he did well with those, but anything out around the 45 I’d take on.”
His accuracy and ability to score from distance, in almost any conditions, (as evidenced by his three long range efforts against Bonniconlon in the first round of the County Championship in atrocious conditions) brings a different and very important dimension to his game. But McNamara doesn’t really see it as too much of a big deal. “I might try four or five kicks before a game, but I wouldn’t spend that much time practising. I mean, it’s only really before the games that I work on them at all.”
The young Irishtown Davitts man, who was a member of the Mayo team who lost the 2004 All-Ireland U-21 Final to Armagh, would relish the opportunity for another crack at securing a national title for his county. But he is even more determined to do his utmost to get his hands on some silverware for Davitts this year, something he feels is long overdue for the club.
“I’m club captain this year and I really want to do well with the club. I’d love to bring them to the (Intermediate) final, and win it. I don’t see why we shouldn’t. We have Colm Boyle and Michael Conroy back in training now from the Mayo u-21’s, and Alan Roche is in training again, so we are getting stronger and I definitely think we can go all the way. I think we can forget about it if we don’t make it up to senior this year, but I’d love to win it.”
McNamara is quite obviously a dedicated ‘club man’ and is unhappy with the huge gaps in the season due to the participation of the Mayo senior team in the championship. The qualified carpenter believes these enforced interruptions are no good for any club player, or club football in general.
“It’s awful hard to keep lads interested. I mean it looks as if we will have just two matches between June and July. It doesn’t make sense. The two best months of the year and you’re left training for nothing. Lads can’t plan holidays or anything. You look at the fixtures at the start of the year and then they are out the window, which is unfair. It’s different in most other counties and I think it has to be looked at. No-one wants to be playing games in late September or October. It can be hard to keep going.”
If McNamara continues his good form and straight-talking for both club and county he may have plenty of football to play before the year is out.
 

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