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It won't be easy for Mayo

Kevin McStay
It won’t be easy for Mayo

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

I KNOW I’ve been away for a while, and you’ve lost trust in the column and my predictions, but you need to look beyond the obvious when considering Meath. They were always going to beat Limerick and they were always going to want the match-up with Mayo. It’s their nature – they love the challenge of real competition. And I admire them for that.
In 2007 Meath made an unannounced entrance on both the Leinster and All-Ireland stage. It would end with defeat at All-Ireland semi-final stage, but not before they had eliminated Tyrone in the quarters. Remember that Meath team? Well folks, they’re back!
Maybe I am missing something in the analysis of where Mayo stand viz-a-vis Meath, but when I hear talk of an easy victory for Mayo – and indeed, Mayo being spoken about in terms of an All-Ireland – I am flabbergasted.
Are Mayo followers talking in terms of Mayo being ready for the likes of Tyrone or Cork in the national final? Surely not. Last weekend, for me at any rate, established the pecking order: Tyrone, Cork and Kerry are in the box seat, and Mayo are with Meath sitting in the back row at the movies.
Let’s deal with the Meath victory first. Again, talk is of Meath being thrilled to have got so far. Like, you find it difficult to believe Meath will have NO fear of the Mayo challenge? Last Saturday night they won as I expected them to – by a slender margin on the scoreboard, but by much more if truth be told.
Both of the Limerick goals should not have counted, and our quarter-final opponents were clearly the better side. As ever with Meath, they have a mix of combative footballers and thoroughbreds, but the really bad news for them is the loss of Stephen Bray, one of the aforementioned thoroughbreds. His loss is incalculable (0-4 from play against Limerick in that match) and this is the event that gives Mayo a real chance of a green light. I understand he will be reported for striking (he was issued with a straight red and so, a month in dry dock will follow) and thus the game will be played without one of its best practitioners.
I liked what I saw from Meath. A good goalkeeper in Paddy O’Rourke with a massive kick-out that will allow Nigel Crawford and Brian Meade contest the midfield well. Their back six are no world-beaters, but they give it everything – look out for the ‘play anywhere-play everywhere’ Chris O’Connor and the excellent Caoimhín King.
Meath are at their strongest up front … if they had call on their best six. But Bray will be out and so the likes of Joe Sheridan, Brian Farrell, Cian Ward (an excellent free-taker) and the younger Bray will taunt and tease … and score.
I heard Limerick attempted to have the Meath versus Roscommon Round Three Qualifier recorded, but the Meath men issued a barring order on all such equipment – does that sound like a team that is thrilled to be as far as they are and happy to bow the knee as they exit tamely next time out?

Parsons Could start at number 14
MAYO have it all to do. The news from the front is not good – Barry Moran has visited sick bay once again and is out due to bone breakage. Who will step in? Moran was not on fire, but had a serious nuisance value – height always has, and no full-back would fancy going up beside him.
Now, Aidan O’Shea might step in to 14, and the question will be is Mortimer the Younger to start? I think not – management has him well primed now, and his contribution might be better measured from the bench. That leaves BJ Padden or Tom Parsons to select from. Or, could we see David Heaney in there causing difficulties?
I’d go with Parsons at full. There is tons of football in this fella if he just shakes himself down and gets motoring, and that would facilitate a swap with Heaney if the Swinford star tired. Such dilemmas will help us all pass the week as we play manager for the seven days!
What pleases me about Team Mayo? A solid and reliable goalkeeper fronts up a defence in good form with plenty of pace to help them ‘run around’ Meath pressure points. Keith Higgins is sure to improve, and I sense young Vaughan’s time has arrived.
The half line is very fast – especially Gardiner and Moran, who are both playing really well. And Trevor Howley in the middle is the best-kept secret we have – this lad can play, and I have no doubt he will against Meath.
Now it begins to get a bit wobbly. Crawford and Meade will be very physical and it’s hard to see McGarrity and Heaney winning this sector. Of course there is the so-called ‘middle eight’ of half back, forwards and middlemen that ultimately decide who prevails here, but it is not going to be an easy victory in the middle. In fact, break even might be as good as it gets.
Numbers 10, 11 and 12 are as good as anything left in the championship and are flying fit and playing at the top of their form. They will contribute in terms of workload, work rate and scores on the boards.
Which brings me to the full line. You know my thoughts from last week and while some of you felt I was a little harsh, others agreed it was both sober and sobering. Time will tell. But after the game against Roscommon I maintained players on the much-vaunted inside line would not make half time in the Connacht final. Now, Barry Moran is out and we are, I guess, back to the drawing board. Mortimer off the bench might offer the best return yet.
Overall then? Mayo will beat Meath, but it will be as tight as the duck’s derriere. Possibly by two or three but no more. But it’s in Croker, it’s a quarter-final, and the joint will be packed – stay on (in the best of good form?) to watch Kilkenny and Waterford in the hurling. Promises to be an interesting day out, folks.
And on the happy journey home, think about the road ahead in footballing terms. Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final is indeed mouth-watering, and you will agree we have some recent history. They looked awesome against Dublin yesterday (Monday), but first, let’s enjoy beating Meath and getting into the daylight. Anything beyond that is really as good as it gets.