Mayo looking for a bit more fire from their big guns
Westmeath’s massed defence could pose some problems for Stephen Rochford’s side
Diarmuid O’Connor: has been in outstanding form for Mayo this season – both at senior and U-21 level. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Strangely it’s all of 11 years since Mayo reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals through the qualifiers but they will be expected to bridge that gap this weekend. Westmeath were always going to be the most vulnerable of the provincial finalists, allowing that Roscommon drew the Connacht decider and fell foul of the dreaded ‘six-day turnaround’.
The season has been illuminating for those who felt that what Mayo really needed was a run in the qualifiers.
It’s too early to pronounce a final verdict but what has been seen so far isn’t too persuasive. Allowing that the team was still a little punch-drunk after a first defeat in Connacht in six years the Fermanagh performance is explainable but the win over Kildare was problematic.
For the period just before half-time when the match was effectively decided Mayo blitzed their opponents in a manner reminiscent of their best displays in recent years.
The big question however is whether the lassitude of the second half which allowed Kildare recover respectability was purely down to the winners’ effectively checking out or their wilting in the face of the onslaught.
A big positive is the form of Diarmuid O’Connor, one All-Ireland already in the bag this year, who is dominating senior matches to almost the same extent that he did in the under-21 championship.
Less encouraging is the more subdued performances of other mainstays like O’Connor’s brother, Cillian, Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan. Rediscovering form this weekend and kicking on for the quarter-finals will be a priority for them as will further game time for Kevin McLaughlin’s sweeping role.
Westmeath will be an interesting test in that they have cultivated a massed defence for the purposes of coping with Dublin and it will test Mayo’s ingenuity going forward.
From Tom Cribbin’s team’s point of view the tactic has its shortcomings. Applied diligently it allowed Westmeath to stay well in touch with the champions in the Leinster final – just as it had a year ago – but ultimately the demands placed on the players became too strenuous and Dublin won well.
There were some good performances from Paul Sharry and Callum McCormack whereas the injury to Ray Connellan was an awful setback for the team and the player. Overall though, Mayo’s slow-burn summer can stretch into another month.
Previously: In the very first year of the qualifiers, 2001, Westmeath won a thrilling tie after extra time against league holders Mayo, 1-14 to 0-16.
You bet: Mayo 1/33, Westmeath 10/1 and the draw at 33/1.
Injuries: Westmeath’s Ray Connellan sustained a bad leg break in the Leinster final and has since signed for AFL club St Kilda. Apart from long-term injuries Ger Cafferkey and Jason Gibbons, Mayo have a full deck.
WESTMEATH: D Quinn; K Maguire, F Boyle, K Daly; J Gonoud, D Lynch, J Dolan; D Daly, G Egan; J Egan, P Sharry, K Martin; C McCormack, J Heslin, J Connellan.
MAYO: D Clarke; B Harrison, K Keane, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, P Durcan; S O'Shea, D Vaughan; Kevin McLoughlin, A O’Shea, D O'Connor ; E Regan, A Moran, C O’Connor (capt).
.Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).
Just the ticket: €25, juveniles €5 – €10 rebate concessions for students and senior citizens in Cusack and Davin Stands.