Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Judgment day awaits for Mayo’s nearly men

Some time over the next three weeks, some enterprising soul will dig up a sidebar seen often in newspaper features concerning Mayo and finals in Croke Park.

It will be a sober record of how they lost two All-Ireland finals in the '90s, and two in the '00s. To lend more weight, it might include defeats in the National League finals of 2012, 2010 and 2007. Their win in 2001 over Galway may be conveniently glossed over for ultimate impact.

The headline may involve the words ‘choke' and/or ‘hoodoo'. That's just the way it is. There's nothing the Mayo players can do about that.

Michael Conroy knows that more than most. As a youngster, his reputation went before him as a bright minor. He made his Championship debut in the 2004 All-Ireland final, replacing James Gill and landing 1-1 in a landslide defeat to Kerry.

He was still there by the time the 2006 final rolled around, but by that game he had surrendered his place to veteran Kevin O'Neill. A bit of slippage had occurred and he couldn't stop it. He dropped off the panel and became yesterday's man.

Being appointed club captain of Davitts last October launched his comeback. From then on he treated his body, mind and football differently. The road to redemption has led him back to where it all began; an All-Ireland final. Naturally, he is asked what the difference between this experience is now, and the defeats of the last decade. “Obviously there is something a small bit different because a lot of the 2004 team are gone. A lot of young lads like Cillian (O'Connor) and that have come in. We are different but will it be good enough?”

That is the question. Against Cork in last year's semi-final and on Sunday's semi, Mayo knocked out the reigning All-Ireland holders. What more do they have to do to be taken seriously?

“Yes, we've knocked them out,” reflects Conroy, “but we haven't won the All-Ireland, you know what I mean? It's no good knocking out the All-Ireland champions unless you give it a right rattle and sure look, as I say you can't win it if you're not in it.

“We've three weeks to look at it and we'll give it a rattle.”

Ten yards away, Mayo's colossal midfielder Aidan O'Shea is thinking the same thing. “There's nothing easy about Donegal. Two teams that are very similar the last couple of years, they got their stuff together, they are very organised. I don't think they are unbeatable, but it's going to be a seriously tough challenge.

“Jim McGuinness has some talented forwards and they do play an attractive brand of football when they want to. It's going to be a difficult game but we have three weeks to get ourselves ready and I think we will.”

Three weeks and counting for one of the most exciting finals ever.

It's almost too much.

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