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Mayo enter 'do or die' territory, Tyrone bid to avoid giant-killing and Ulster big guns clash

5 talking points ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland SFC round 2 qualifiers.

Mayo defender Lee Keegan.
Mayo defender Lee Keegan.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. Mayo enter ‘do or die’ territory

A MONTH AFTER their Connacht semi-final defeat to Roscommon, Mayo are set to come back under the national spotlight for this weekend’s away trip to Down. 

They’ll be without promising young midfielder Matthew Ruane who suffered a broken collar bone in training last week. Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons are still rehabbing injuries, so Stephen Coen, Donie Vaughan or Diarmuid O’Connor could be paired with Aidan O’Shea at midfield.

There’s a real danger that Mayo’s season could end on Saturday night if they get dragged into a dogfight.

Down have Caolan Mooney back from suspension and will fancy their chances of causing an upset at a packed Pairc Elser. Particularly given Paddy Tally’s recent involvement with Galway, who defeated Mayo in the Connacht last season.

Cathal McShane and Donegal's Hugh McFadden Cathal McShane proved an effective target man for Tyrone during the league. Source: Evan Logan/INPHO

2. Tyrone look to bounce back

The most worrying aspect of Tyrone’s Ulster exit was how clueless they looked in the face of Donegal’s packed defence.

The Red Hand were the market-leaders in the defensive, counter-attacking game over the past few seasons, but have pivoted to a more offensive system where they look to hit Cathal McShane with early kick-passes inside.

Donegal cut out the early ball into McShane by dropping bodies in front of him and it was puzzling that Tyrone were unable to switch back to their old style of play to counteract that ploy. 

Longford have made a habit of giant-killing in the qualifiers over the years. Mayo, Monaghan, Down and Derry have all suffered backdoor defeats at Pearse Park in recent years and Longford will be targeting a similar outcome this weekend. 

If they do flood numbers back behind the ball and look to frustrate Mickey Harte’s team, have Tyrone the wherewithal to think on their feet and run the ball through the blanket?  

Jason McLoughlin with Rian O’Neill Armagh's Rian O'Neill has been one of the best newcomers of the summer. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

3. All-Ulster tie of the round

From the moment the draw was made, Monaghan vs Armagh was the stand-out tie of the round. Both counties were dumped out of Ulster by Cavan, although the Breffni needed a replay to get over Kieran McGeeney’s team.

Monaghan went to the last four of the All-Ireland series last year and there are question marks around whether this group have already hit their ceiling under Malachy O’Rourke. 

In the final season of the five-year term he agreed with Armagh, McGeeney is under pressure to deliver a big championship victory with this group. They’ve got talented forwards in Jamie Clarke and Rian O’Neill, plus brilliant young midfielder Jarlath Og Burns. 

Whoever progresses here will fancy their chances of powering into the Super 8s, while defeat could spell the end of the road for McGeeney or O’Rourke. A summer playing ball in the States beckons for the players on the losing team.

Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch Sligo's dual star Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

4. Sligo dual pair facing busy weekend

It will be a busy weekend for Sligo’s dual duo Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch and Michael Gordon.

The pair will line out for the Yeats County against Armagh in the Nicky Rackard Cup final on Saturday, before they turn their attention to the big ball code for Sunday’s visit to Tullamore to take on Offaly. 

Both games were due to take place on Saturday but the GAA granted Sligo’s request for the football qualifier to be fixed for Sunday.

Even if they deliver silverware in Croke Park, Gordon and O’Kelly-Lynch won’t be indulging in the celebrations as they rest up for the round 2 qualifier clash. 

O’Kelly-Lynch, in particular, has been an outstanding hurler for Sligo since making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2013.

John Maughan Offaly manager John Maughan. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

5. Could be the last qualifier game for many

With GAA president John Horan intent on introducing a two-tier football championship for next season, this weekend could mark the last qualifier game for a number of counties.

Under one proposal for a Tier 2 competition, Division 3 and 4 sides would be excluded from the backdoor system unless they reach a provincial final.

If that format were to apply this season, Antrim, Derry, Longford, Limerick, Leitrim, Down, Sligo and Offaly would not have been eligible for the qualifiers.

For the sides that are defeated this weekend, it could be a while before they experience the backdoor again.

*******

All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round 2

Saturday
Antrim v Kildare, Corrigan Park, 3pm
Derry v Laois, Owenbeg, 5pm
Longford v Tyrone, Pearse Park, 5pm
Westmeath v Limerick, TEG Cusack Park, 6pm
Leitrim v Clare, Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, 6pm
Monaghan v Armagh, Clones, 7pm
Down v Mayo, Pairc Esler, 7pm

Sunday
Offaly v Sligo, O’Connor Park, 2pm

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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