Crossroads clash for familiar foes as Mayo host Tyrone in Division One showdown
THEY have long memories in Mayo and the pain of that All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone in 2021 is still lingering in the county.
After finally dethroning the Dubs and with Kerry gone, Mayo hoped their time with the Sam Maguire had finally come but after Ryan O’Donoghue hit the post with a penalty their chances went up in smoke.
Tomorrow Kevin McStay’s in-form Westerners host the Red Hands in Castlebar and former Mayo forward Alan Dillon expects “an extra bit of bite” between these familiar foes.
“Every game in the League this year is ultra-competitive because everyone wants to be seeded in the upper half of the table,” he said.
“Spirits are high after last week’s performance against Kerry. Tyrone are coming to town now and there’s always been a good, healthy rivalry there and on the back of Tyrone’s All-Ireland success I think Mayo will be looking to put down a marker.
“Saturday evening games have that extra bit of bite and we’re expecting a massive crowd with a big travelling support from Tyrone and there will be an edge because there’s a lot at stake. Tyrone desperately need the points and winning would put Mayo in the driving seat in terms of keeping their Division One status and give them a platform to move on into a League final.”
Mayo have yet to taste defeat in Division One but Tyrone have already lost twice. The Connacht outfit drew with Galway in their opener and were held by Armagh in a thriller at the Athletic Grounds. Last weekend goals from O’Donoghue and James Carr saw them beat Kerry by seven points.
Meanwhile, either side of beating Donegal, Tyrone have lost to Roscommon and Galway. In fact, the Red Hands have struggled for form since they beat Mayo in that All-Ireland final.
“They have under-performed since the All-Ireland win and it’s been difficult for their management to put their finger on why,” said Dillon.
“They’ve tried different formations and combinations but they are still dependent on the Peter Hartes and Mattie Donnellys to deliver big moments for them.
“I’d say that is a concern for their management but that’s not to say there isn’t talent in the county, it’s just that it seems to be taking time to come through. It’s been difficult for the All-Ireland-winning team to find that form again and reach that level but there’s no better men to bounce back and it could take a game like this one to re-ignite that missing spark in their squad.
“I always felt that away games allowed teams to bring a different cohesion and unity and I’m sure this weekend will sharpen Tyrone’s focus. I’m sure they’ve had a tough week on the back of the Galway defeat so you’ll have a number of wounded Tyrone players who’ll want to deliver and it should be a very physical encounter between these teams.
O’Donoghue has been the leader of the Mayo attack while Jordan Flynn is thriving under the new management and Aidan O’Shea looked back to his best, particularly during the second half in Armagh. Meanwhile, Cillian O’Connor has returned to fitness, Tommy Conroy isn’t far away and Paddy Durcan was back in green and red against Kerry. All-in-all, the Mayo faithful have reason to look ahead with optimism.
“Aidan has started the year very well,” added Dillon.
“Not just in scoring, his ability to win frees and bring people into the game has been to the fore in Kevin McStay’s new plan.
“We’re at the halfway point of the League and all the teams will want to be demonstrating some form. Mayo are out in the Championship in six weeks’ time and people who have the jersey will want to hold onto that now because, if they don’t, they mightn’t get another look in again.”