Armagh boss Rafferty fears Mayo backlash in U-21 final

ONLY one more day to go to the All-Ireland U-21 football final in Breffni Park and still the question everyone is asking is how will Mayo respond to the crushing disappointment of last Sunday?

Bad enough that the entire county is in something of a funk after the loss of another All-Ireland final but, with 10 of that senior squad again on duty tomorrow, you can’t help but wonder what state of mind the Connacht champions will approach the game in.

Will they respond like a cornered animal or a domesticated pet? Ask Armagh manager Peter Rafferty his opinion and his first response is an exasperated sigh. You get the impression he has been hearing this line all week and he isn’t comfortable with it.

“The fact that they had 10 players on a senior panel that actually got to an All-Ireland final suggests to me they are a real force to be reckoned with,” he replied.

“They lost last Sunday and I’d imagine they would be doubly determined to win this weekend.

“Mayo’s record in finals is something people talk about but two years ago Armagh still hadn’t won a senior All-Ireland title in 115 years. The point I’m trying to make is that, with arguments like this you can ask me to take either side, and I could make a very good case for both.”

Mayo's record, then, at U21 - and minor - is far better within their respective provinces but, although they can claim three All-Irelands at U-21, the last of those was won back in 1983.

As finals go then, tradition isn’t a player to the same extent it might have been last weekend, though that isn’t to say there aren’t some comparisons.

Kerry’s tour de force in Croke Park was attributed in large part to an increased physicality that literally blew a much smaller Mayo side away.

Armagh have used a similarly robust style of play at U-21, ending Tyrone’s hegemony in Ulster, destroying favourites Derry in the final and sweeping past a fancied Cork side in the semi-final. So are Mayo about to be brushed aside again?

Rafferty, predictably, begs to differ.

“Anyone comparing us to the Kerry senior side is paying us a compliment and I’ll take it whether I agree or not. But Kildare are the biggest team I’ve ever seen at this level and Mayo beat them in the semi-final.

“Kildare were full of big men of 6’4”, 6’5” but Mayo played their own game and did it very well. Afterwards, their management said they were disappointed with how they had played so it shows they’ve more in the tank.”

Again, just like the senior championship, Mayo will be facing a side that outperformed them in the semi-finals.

Armagh’s trail through Ulster was reason to respect them, but the ease with which they made light of an 18-week layoff to beat Cork by seven points was astonishing.

“We didn’t have any idea how the layoff would affect us but we got off to a great start and then responded well when Cork came back at us after the opening 15 minutes,” Rafferty said.

“The second-half display was very pleasing because we kept at it. It’s the same situation now, with another layoff. Unlike seniors, you never know how U-21 teams react as you can’t judge their form.”

MAYO u-21 v Armagh: F. Ruddy, D. Geraghty, P. Navin, T. Howley, M. Carey, L. O'Malley, S. Drake; B. Moran, C. Barrett; A. Kilcoyne, R. MacNamara, A. Moran (c), A. Costello, D. Munnelly, M. Conroy.

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