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Mayo hurlers are one step from Croker

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MAKING HIS MOVE?Mayo’s Kenny Feeney takes on Meath’s Seán Heavey during the county’s Christy Ring Cup clash at MacHale Park, Castlebar earlier this season.?
MAKING HIS MOVE
?Mayo’s Kenny Feeney takes on Meath’s Seán Heavey during the county’s Christy Ring Cup clash at MacHale Park, Castlebar earlier this season.?Pic: Michael Donnelly

One step from Croker


Kenny Feeney is aiming to fire Mayo to Croke Park

Interview
Rob Murphy

FOR just the second time in the history of the competition, Mayo will contest a Christy Ring Cup semi-final this Saturday, May 31 at MacHale Park, Castlebar (1pm) when they host Division 2 league champions Kerry for a place in the final at Croke Park early next month.
Top scorer and key marksman Kenny Feeney feels his side are well placed for an upset too.
“The commitment has been there from the start,” the Tooreen sharpshooter told The Mayo News last night. “The excuses have been parked and … the whole squad [have] bought in. Everyone is tuned in and focused.  The win over Armagh in the first round was our first in the competition in five years, so that was a big step, and we feel there is more in us.”
There are still some experienced players from the last good run in this competition. In 2008, a Mayo side led by Martin Brennan and Pete Finnerty were seconds away from a trip to Croke Park for the final only to conceded a last-minute goal to Carlow at McHale Park.
The likes of Derek McDonnell, Aidan Connolly, Keith Higgins, Brian Higgins and Shane Morley are still part of the current squad overseen by Christy Phillips, Leo O’Connor and Austin Kenny.
Feeney (23), who also lined out with the Aghamore footballers last Sunday, is key to Mayo’s attacking plans.
In three games, he has racked up 29 points (including 23 frees) during a run that has seen Mayo beat Armagh by three, lose by a single point to Meath and bounce back to beat Wicklow last Saturday.
Despite those large tallies, he’s ‘not 100 per cent’ happy with his free-taking and feels as though he ‘cost us’ in the game against Meath. “That’s just something I have to work on,” he said.
Mayo now face a free-scoring Kerry side that won Division 2A and almost upset Offaly in the promotion play-off this year. Mayo finished third in Division 2B, but they haven’t conceded a goal in their last three games and Feeney is full of praise for the team’s ‘exceptional’ defence – “They are putting heads where you wouldn’t put a hurl”.
The belief is there within the camp, and with so much at stake, they’ll hope for support.
“I would love to see a crowd at all our games,” said the Tooreen man. “We had four people in Wicklow on Saturday. Two Mayo men down from Dublin who didn’t know each other and just met at the ground and two of the players’ mothers. That was it. If it was a league game for the footballers, imagine ho many would be there.
“We have some really talented players in this squad and I’d love to see their skill set on display to a much bigger crowd, it would help the game grow. We’re going to give it our all whether people show up or they don’t, but the speed and and excitement is well worth watching ... and it would be nice to have that extra support.”
That’s as good a call to arms as any. The hurling strongholds of Tooreen, Ballyhaunis and Belmullet will bring in a few for such a big day, beyond that, who knows? Mayo’s first appearance in a major final is just one step away.

Fixture Christy Ring Cup

Semi-final
Mayo v Kerry
Saturday, May 31

Castlebar at 1pm
Referee: J O’Brien (Tipperary)
(Extra-time if necessary)