Covid scare not enough to stop Mayo going to battle

Four changes announced in the team to face Leitrim in Connacht semi-final on Sunday

Mayo football’s ability to enthral us all over the last decade has surfaced again in the unlikely circumstances of an otherwise humdrum Connacht semi-final against Leitrim.

Firstly there was an email yesterday morning announcing that there had been a “number of Covid-19 related queries” and interactions with the HSE, which effectively meant that an outbreak was being investigated and close contacts assessed.

This may briefly have set Leitrim pulses racing at the thought that their opponents would go the same way as Sligo, who withdrew last year because of the effects of Covid cases on the playing panel.

If so, that possibility flickered and died with Mayo bullish that the match would go ahead no matter how deep they had to go into the playing reserves. In the event a team was announced with just four changes from the side that walloped Sligo two weeks ago. Given the reliability of Mayo team announcements, that could mean anything.

By Friday evening however, Leitrim were saying that they had no reason to believe the match wasn’t going ahead.

On a landmark note Mayo captain Aidan O'Shea, who scored 2-2 against Sligo, makes his 150th league and championship – 79 and 70 respectively – appearance for the county, becoming only the fourth Mayo player after Andy Moran, Keith Higgins and Kevin McLaughlin to reach that milestone.

Covid regulations

In case that wasn’t enough to keep Mayo at the forefront of our minds, news had emerged earlier in the Irish Independent of the county’s latest brush with Covid regulations on the size of match entourages – limited at present to 40.

Attempts to sneak three additional backroom personnel into last December’s All-Ireland final in Croke Park in the kit van were rumbled and the Mayo county board forced to issue suspensions.

It came to light that something similar had happened before the Sligo match in Markievicz Park two weeks ago with Connacht Council barring the van – which had an unauthorised person on board – from Sunday’s fixture in Castlebar as a result – although presumably a kit van is less indispensible for home matches.

Now established as intrinsic to one of the biggest people smuggling operations outside of Texas, the Mayo van will have to sit on the periphery of MacHale Park in ignominy and reflect on the disapproval of many.

Elsewhere on the pitch, two of last year’s biggest stories return to the fray this weekend, as both Tipperary and Cavan defend their historic provincial crowns in Thurles and Omagh, respectively against Kerry and Tyrone.

History looks as if it will play a discouraging role, as after their previous Munster title in 1935, Tipp lost it the following year in a provincial semi-final against Kerry. Cavan, for their part, haven’t defeated Tyrone in 38 years of championship.

The odds suggest that both will fall at the first hurdle of their defence.