FLASHBACK Mayo's Grace Kelly is pictured in action against Dublin at Croke Park. She is one of only two players in this weekend's Mayo team that also started against the Dubs two years ago in the National League. Pic: Sportsfile
THE Mayo ladies football team return to Croke Park on Saturday evening for the first time since the 2017 All-Ireland Final defeat to Dublin.
And Peter Leahy’s new-look squad are determined to make a big impression as Mayo try to get their Division 1 league campaign back on track against the reigning All-Ireland champions.
It’s the stand-out game in this weekend’s Lidl Ladies National League and throws-in at 5pm at GAA headquarters, with many Mayo fans likely to arrive in the capital in time to support the county’s ladies.
Mayo beat Tipperary in the first round of the competition before losing away to Donegal in round two, while Dublin have also clocked up one win from their opening two games.
The sides met twice in last year’s National League, with Dublin beating Mayo in Castlebar and again in the final at Parnell Park — when Mick Bohan’s outfit cantered to a 3-15 to 1-10 win.
However, Peter Leahy’s squad has changed dramatically in the interim and a whole host of young players are in line to play at Croke Park for the first time on Saturday evening.
“We have quite a young team this year. We have good girls there that can teach the new girls a few things about playing senior,” explained Mayo captain, Niamh Kelly earlier this week.
“They have a great attitude and are willing to work hard, when you have that it’s half the battle.
“We have a few leaders on the team, everyone is very good to the young girls coming in and they bring this energy. You learn things from the new girls coming in as well.
“We will just have to make sure they are looked after and made feel welcome. There are other girls that are doing that as well.
“The Connacht final is the aim for now. Galway are super. It’s always going to be a battle against them.
“The league is probably a stepping stone to the championship really. That is the big game, the Connacht final against Galway.”
A primary school teacher who works in Sandymount in Dublin, Kelly lines out in Mayo’s half-forwardline from where she hit 1-2 against Donegal last Sunday week.
Among the newcomers to watch out for in the Mayo ranks are Irish basketball international, Dayna Finn, whose father John lined out for Mayo for many years and played in the 1989 All-Ireland defeat to Cork.
Dayna is part of a new-look Mayo midfield this spring alongside Clodagh McManamon, whose sister, Ciara, is at centre-back.
Up front, the talented Emma Needham from Louisburgh is at centre-forward with Rachel Kearns, who played in goal in last year’s League Final, now at full-forward.
Dublin beat Tipperary by 13 points in the last round, scoring six goals in the process, as Lyndsey Davey (2), Siobhan Killeen (2), Carla Rowe and Nicole Owen all hit the net.
It was an impressive display by the defending league champions, as they recovered from their first round loss to Donegal at Croke Park impressively.
Mayo will need to produce a big performance this weekend if they are to beat Dublin for the first time since their thrilling one point victory at Croke Park two years ago.
Only two of the Mayo team that started that night — Fiona Doherty and Grace Kelly — are in the side this time around, while Emma Needham and Rachel Kearns came off the bench.
Laura Brennan; Nicola O’Malley, Roisin Flynn, Danielle Caldwell; Kathryn Sullivan, Ciara McManamon, Noirin Moran; Clodagh McManamon, Dayna Finn; Sinead Cafferkey, Emma Needham, Niamh Kelly; Fiona Doherty, Rachel Kearns, Grace Kelly.