MAKING HIS POINT Mayo manager James Horan and Leitrim manager Terry Hyland are pictured following the 2019 Connacht FBD League match between the counties in Carrick-on-Shannon. Pic: Sportsfile
1 The soft side of the draw
BARRING the shock of the century, Mayo will be in a Connacht final by virtue of beating the two lowest-placed teams in this year’s Division 4 of the league.
For comparison, both Louth and Antrim have beaten both Sligo and Leitrim this year too, but won’t be anywhere near a provincial final.
It is a soft draw but you could argue Mayo have been waiting a long time for it.
Over most of recent history, Mayo, Galway and Roscommon have been the top three in Connacht and so the draw will always see two (at least) on one side of the draw with the other handed what certainly this year is considered the ‘easy’ draw.
Mayo haven’t fared out too well in getting such ‘soft draws’.
You have to go back to 2012 when they weren’t on the same side of the draw as either Galway or Roscommon.
But there’s no denying it does raise questions about the current structures.
2 Will it be a help or a hindrance?
PLAYING Division 4 opponents may not be ideal preparation for Mayo in terms of a Connacht Final against Galway.
Galway have had a more searching test of their credentials than Sligo or Leitrim will pose of Mayo.
But Roscommon are out – that’s the risk with a harder draw, a risk Mayo know better than most.
Recall Galway beat them in 2016, 2017 and 2018 while the Rossies beat them in 2019.
It is hard to say how differently those years may have turned out had Mayo went through the front door.
Last year they won Connacht again, from the hard side of the draw. Leitrim were far more game in their opening round than Sligo were ten days ago and Mayo then had to go to the Hyde to beat Roscommon and Salthill to account for Galway.
Have tougher draws in previous years helped Mayo? And is this year’s straightforward run to the final a hindrance?
It’s hard to be too picky about having a route to an All-Ireland semi-final that requires only winning one difficult game.
3 What will Leitrim be like?
MAYO’S 2020 championship campaign started away to Leitrim last November and while James Horan’s charges ran out 2-15 to 0-10 winners, it would be fair to say Leitrim asked more questions of Mayo than Sligo did ten days ago.
In fact, they led 0-4 to 0-0 early on when direct ball to a robust full-forward line posed issues for Oisin Mullin and company.
Terry Hyland’s charges had just been relegated to Division 4, after a breakthrough promotion the previous season.
Their 2019 promotion caught the headlines; it was their first time out of Division 4 since 2008.
They lost all three games in this year’s campaign, including to Sligo, which has to be worrying from their perspective, given the gulf apparent between Mayo and Sligo in the previous round.
The question is how long they can stay competitive, not if they can pull off a shock.
4 What will Mayo want from the game?
AFTER what we saw in Ennis against Clare, there’s no doubt the main thing James Horan will want after the almost certain win is to avoid any more injuries.
After ticking those boxes, he will be hoping to see a high standard of performance, regardless of the opposition and will be very happy if more starting spots are nailed down.
If his intention is to play Aidan O’Shea at full-forward, he will hope to see an understanding and telepathy develop between the Breaffy man and Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue, while the service they receive will be tailor-made for their different strengths.
Darren McHale’s electric display against Sligo was a cause for optimism, Horan would be delighted to see a repeat display from the Knockmore man.
It’s a chance too for fellas on the bench to put their hands up.
Horan will be hoping to see plenty of them put themselves in contention with a good display on Sunday.
5 What’s waiting down the line?
GALWAY’S win over Roscommon on Sunday means that a Mayo v Galway decider is virtually inevitable.
It’s hard to believe it’s less than nine months since Mayo demolished the Tribesmen in Tuam Stadium.
There has been some amount of water under the bridge since.
Mayo have been relegated from Division 1, beat Galway in a Connacht Final, reached an All-Ireland final, suffered a raft of retirements, been promoted back to Division 1 all while Galway have went in the opposite direction.
Padraig Joyce might still wonder how his team lost to Monaghan in the relegation play-off last month and they’ll be looking to atone for those two defeats at the tail end of 2020.
They’ve brought through some talented members of their All-Ireland winning Under-20 team of last year.
Will Leitrim tear up the script? Could there be a repeat of 1994?
No, is the short answer. Those days are long gone.
There’s no fairytale on the way.