Tuesday, 22 June 2010 10:50
Newly appointed Mayo minor football manager Tony Duffy steps into the unknown this Saturday when he faces his first major challenge.
With no back door until the Connaught final, it could be a very long or a very short summer for the Ballintubber man and his team.
The baptism of fire that can be the championship doesn't come any tougher than Roscommon, a team Mayo had to face twice in the Connaught final last year before they lifted the trophy, but there is a feeling in Roscommon that
the team did not do themselves justice and they will come to McHale Park on a revenge mission on Saturday evening.
Roscommon proved just how good a side they were by bursting through the back door and almost taking Kerry in extra time to make the semi-final.
Mayo, of course, have a proud record at this grade and while you have to go back to 1985 since they last won the All-Ireland, they have been banging hard on the door in recent years. Duffy's predecessor, Ray Dempsey, came within a whisker in 2008 when they lost to Tyrone and again last year when they crashed to Armagh in the final, but producing a memorable win over Down in the semi-final, proving northern teams are beatable.
While Duffy used the Connaught league, a competition which Mayo won despite losing their only game to Roscommon, to run the rule over some players, it is always difficult to gauge just how minors will cope or respond in any given situation as many of these lads will just have completed their Leaving Certificate the Friday afternoon before the game.
Not exactly ideal preparation for an important championship match and unlike the senior championship, only those who lose their provincial final have a second chance. This is a winner takes all game for Mayo and Roscommon.
But, on paper at least, and with at least six from last year's panel, Mayo have a strong army to represent the county this year.Cillian O' Connor - talented Mayo forward
Danny Kirby, Cillian O'Connor, Fergal Durkin, Jack McDonnell and Darren Coen were key players from last year and bring that experience from that memorable campaign to the table, but Roscommon too will have a handful of players with similar experience.
To win the Connaught minor league was a bonus, especially since Duffy didn't set out to win the league, placing the emphasis more on giving his extensive panel of players a chance to prove themselves.
There is always a risk at minor level of overlooking some players but the rise in colleges football this year in Mayo, with St. Gerald's of Castlebar winning the Connaught title, would indicate a high standard of football at minor level.
Unfortunately, Mayo have twice come within sight of the summit but on both occasions the teams from Northern Ireland just had that bit extra when it came to taking the title.
While Duffy is not looking that far ahead he feels he has rounded up the best available talent in the county and is confident his side will open the defence of their provincial title on a winning note.