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Match practice a big bonus for Mayo U-21s

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Match practice to help Mayo


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Mike Finnerty

IT’S been six years since Mayo won back-to-back games in the Connacht U-21 football championship, and they are bracing themselves for ‘a huge challenge’ in next Saturday’s semi-final against Galway, according to Niall Heffernan.
The Mayo manager got the first victory of his tenure at the second attempt last week against Leitrim, and immediately set his sights on the next ‘knock-out’ fixture.
“Galway are a very good side, with a lot of very good footballers, and they’re coming off a high with Corofin being in the All-Ireland club final,” said Heffernan.
“We have to prepare for that now. Beating Leitrim was a huge win. We had to go out there and put Mayo football back on the map at under 21 level.”
Heffernan told reporters after last Wednesday’s match that Diarmuid O’Connor was taken off with a ‘dead leg’ and Darren McHale needed to be replaced due to a hamstring problem.
O’Connor started for the Mayo seniors last Saturday night so looks to have recovered, while Michael Plunkett, Conor Loftus or Morgan Lyons would be at the head of the queue to replace McHale if the Knockmore attacker is forced to miss out.
Galway, the 2013 All-Ireland champions, will be looking to make amends for last year’s disastrous campaign when they fell at the first hurdle against Leitrim.
Alan Flynn, the former Ballinrobe manager, is in charge of the young Tribesmen again and will be building his team around the likes of senior stars Damien Comer and Enda Tierney, both of whom started in the National League last Sunday against Cavan.
Wing-back Johnny Heaney from Killanin also got a run with the Galway seniors during the FBD League, while Michael Daly (son of Val) looks set to graduate from last year’s minor team if fit.
It remains to be seen whether any of Corofin’s U-21 contingent will feature, just four days after their All-Ireland club final engagement.
Their availability would be a huge boost to Galway’s chances with Conor Cunningham, Liam Silke, Dylan Wall and Martin Farragher all eligible for Alan Flynn’s squad.
Galway will feel they were desperately unlucky to be pipped by Mayo in each of the last two Connacht Minor championship campaigns, and will be gunning for revenge.
Mayo, meanwhile, left themselves with plenty of homework to do despite the comprehensive margin of victory against Leitrim.
“We struggled, we made it hard for ourselves, but the lads figured it out, they worked it out, and we got it going,” admitted Niall Heffernan after the game.
“Leitrim dropped a lot of players back, but we expected that and we’ve trained for that.
“But our shot selection in the first half was poor, we created an awful lot of chances, about 24 chances, took about 16 shots, and had ten wides. It’s a lot, and it kills the momentum.
“It takes the confidence away from players so we just had to keep encouraging them at half-time, ask them to keep doing the same thing, and just be a little bit cooler.”
Heffernan will be hoping that his players emerged unscathed from Saturday night’s National League match between Mayo and Dublin with Patrick Durcan, Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen Coen and Michael Hall all named in the senior’s match-day squad.
The last time Mayo took on Galway in the Connacht U-21 championship, extra-time was required to separate the sides back in 2009 at MacHale Park.
It is likely to be another close encounter on Saturday evening but Mayo’s match practice may just stand them in good stead.
However, they will need to bring their shooting boots from the start, especially if the Corofin brigade are togging with Galway.

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