ON THE BALL Mayo’s Shane Boland is pictured in action against Tyrone back in 2019. The teams will meet again at Croke Park next Saturday. Pic: Ciara Buckley
MAYO hurlers are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the football team and raise a cup aloft in the Hogan Stand at Croke Park next Saturday.
Buoyed up by a fine second-half display against Armagh in the semi-final at Carrick-on-Shannon last weekend, Mayo travel to Croke Park next Saturday where they take on Tyrone in the Nickey Rackard Cup final at 1.30pm. The game will be followed at 4pm by the Ulster senior football final between Monaghan and Tyrone.
This is Mayo’s second trip to headquarters in eight months after losing out to Donegal in the closing minutes of the 2020 final that was played on November 22. Expectations were high for a Mayo win on the day and the loss in such dramatic circumstances hurt badly.
Mayo sights were fixed almost immediately on the Nickey Rackard Cup 2021 season with a determination to get back and deliver an overdue accolade to this highly motivated group of players.
They are exactly where they hoped to be now and, in the aftermath of their win over Armagh, one could sense the relief and joy and the passion and enthusiasm ahead of the final on Saturday.
“Armagh were always to provide a solid test for us and it was a tough struggle in the first half,” Mayo manager Derek Walsh told The Mayo News. “We made a lot of mistakes and I was delighted to get them in at half-time to refocus and make some vital switches.
“The concession of the goal on the stroke of half-time did not worry me as we were just a point behind at the interval.
“Keith was untypically off form with some frees, and I said to Johnny Cunnane, ‘what are we going to do if Keith missed the next one?’ and Johnny said to me, ‘Don’t worry about him, he won’t miss the next free’.
“We related that story to Keith and the lads in the huddle after the match to much amusement, and none more so than from Keith himself! Johnny Cunnane’s confidence was well justified as Keith scored the first five points of the second half and really got back into the groove for the rest of the game.”
Leitrim County Board need to remove the steel uprights supporting the netting at the town end of the pitch. They are creating a huge visual problem as players and spectators are confusing them with the actual uprights and causing great uncertainty.
Tyrone were outsiders to reach the Nicky Rackard Cup at the start of the season and created a bit of a surprise when ousting Donegal, the defending champions, at Carrickmore last Saturday.
Mayo will be wary of them since they shocked a fancied Mayo team at Healy Park in Omagh back in 2019. Damien Casey was their star player that day and he was again Tyrone’s top scorer last weekend with a tally of eleven points, ten from frees.
“We still have not put 70 minutes together all this season with some lapses in all our games and that is a worry,” says Derek Walsh. “But we are going into the final in Croke Park on the back of an excellent second half display against Armagh in which everything went so well for us.
“We had some huge performances from so many of the lads and the defence in that period was outstanding. The return of Shane Boland is a huge addition to the team while Cathal Freeman and Conor Daly were excellent last Saturday after returning from injury.
“We are not sure yet about the availability of Pearse McCrann who missed the last two games through injury. He has been a great addition to the panel this year. The mood is top class and we are in a good place ahead of the big game.”
Liam Hodgins has played a central role in preparing this Mayo team as well.
The former Abbey-Duniry player won an All Star award with Galway hurlers back in 2001 and brings a wealth of hurling knowledge to the Mayo set-up. Damien Fox from Offaly has joined the backroom team this season along with selectors Johnny Cunnane and Nicholas Frayne with Tom Phillips and Dave McConn also involved in the overall set-up.
How special it would be to win a second cup in Croke Park in the space of six days and, on a national level, to see Keith Higgins, a true legend of the GAA world, have that special honour on the steps of the Hogan Stand. It has been a good journey in 2021 and all that remains now is for Mayo to deliver in style on Saturday.
Nicky Rackard Cup Final
Mayo v Tyrone
Saturday, July 31
Croke Park at 1.30pm