Mayo's minors look to crush southern rebels

GAA: All Ireland Minor Football Championship Semi-Final

The rising star can quite often upstage the main attraction on a concert billing and while all the attention will be on the big show at 5pm in Croke Park, the support act could quite possibly be the game of the day for thrills, spills and and excitement.

If entertainment is what you are after - the Mayo minors have been the best value for money around in their last two outings - themselves and Galway engaged in an all time classic in the Connacht final in Tuam Stadium that was decided by a single point after extra-time. They then somehow managed to find themselves holding on against Dublin in the quarter-final, despite scoring five goals in that game.

Now standing in their way of a place in the All Ireland final is a Cork side, who shook off their defeat to Kerry in the Munster final to see off ulster champions, Monaghan, in their quarter-final. This will be the Mayo minors first trip back to Croke Park since 2014, the year after they won the title.

Kerry have dominated this grade, winning the last five titles - with Mayo the last team outside the Kingdom to pick up the Tom Markham Cup - a side that featured the likes of current Mayo captain Diarmuid O'Connor, Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus and Michael Plunkett, who are all involved with the current senior set-up.

The format of the Connacht championship allowed Mayo to learn and develop over their four group games and while they had to rely on Sligo to do them a favour and beat Roscommon at the end to send Mayo into the semi-final of the provincial championship, they haven't looked back since.

Tomás Morley and his management team have proved themselves to be shrewd operators on the line adapting their tactics game by game, with their positioning of Dylan Thornton as a wing forward against Dublin and directing kick-outs on top of the Ballina man to use his height advantage on his marker to good use - along with encouraging their players to drive through the middle of the Dublin defence with the ball after noticing that there was a slight weakness there for them to exploit.

Luke Jennings put in a top class performance for Mayo against Dublin, both with his shot stopping and his distribution from restarts - he will need to be on top form again tomorrow against a Cork side who have a few tasty forwards. The rebels ran up 3-19 in their win over Monaghan with Patrick Campbell hitting 1-5 and Michael O'Neill and Conor Corbett both scoring 1-3 in that win.

The Mayo full-back line will have to be on top form in this one - but there will be concerns going into it, with Oisin Tunney being forced off injured against Dublin and Alfie Morrision not lasting the full game in that one - in what was his first game back after a lay-off with a hamstring injury. This could force Morley to rejig his rearguard - with the likes of team captain Aidan Cosgrove, Owen McHale, and Ruairi Keane all serious performers in the Mayo defence who can move around to suit needs.

In the middle of the park, Mayo surprised many with Cill Chomain's Mark Tighe partnering Ethan Henry in the middle of the park against Dublin and Paddy Heneghan - who had been one of the nailed-on starters all year - dropping to the bench and being used in an impact sub role, according to Morley after that win. Tighe performed really well and would be expected to hold onto his place for Saturday - but Heneghan could be favoured in the open spaces of Croke Park.

Up front is where Mayo pack plenty of punch and can be devastating - if they get things right. Paul Walsh has already scored a couple of goal-of-the-season contenders and his nerveless flick-up of the ball as it rolled across the face of an unguarded Mayo goal deep in injury time against Dublin, showed a cool confidence in his own ability.

Ray Walsh and Frank Irwin are two serious target men, who both also have a deft touch and can take their scores when they come their way. Ciaran Mylett and Dylan Thornton and are both strong ball carriers and willing trackers when required in defence - while Rory Morrin was the man who got Mayo's vital fifth goal against Dublin after coming off the bench in that one.

When it's been there to be won and needed to be won, this minor team have come good this year. Tomorrow is another one where they will have to leave it all out there on the field against a Cork side that are looking to surf the wave of optimism that has been sweeping through the counties' football hamlets this summer, with the seniors putting in good showings and their u20 side winning the All Ireland title last weekend - coming back from going 1-6 to 0-0 down early against Dublin, before reeling them in and seeing them off with ease at the end.


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