Ulster champions Tyrone are the right opponents to bring the best out of Mayo in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, according to John Casey.
The former Mayo forward believes that the last eight clash at Croke Park is ‘a 50/50 game’ — but only if the Westerners can produce their best display for almost 12 months.
“I honestly believe that there has to be a kick in Mayo,” says the RTÉ Radio analyst. “Every second person that I’ve met this week is asking the same question: will Mayo perform?
“The fact is that they haven’t played well since the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin last August. That’s a long time ago now.
“So we’re all wondering if they can hit those heights again on Saturday. We’re wondering, and we’re hoping they can.” Casey has been covering the championship all summer around the country with both Mid West Radio and RTÉ Radio 1.
And he’s seen enough football on his travels to conclude that two genuine All-Ireland contenders are meeting in the first of Saturday’s quarter-finals at 4pm.
After surrendering their Connacht crown to Galway in June, Mayo have reached the last eight through the backdoor for the first time since 2002.
But Casey is still waiting for them to catch fire.
“I’ve said all week that if any team can bring the best out in Mayo, Tyrone can. The sight of that jersey is surely going to get the adrenaline pumping.
“Tyrone are going to get tight, they’re going to get stuck in, they’re going to rile the likes of Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea.
“And maybe that’s what these Mayo lads need right now.
“Can they flick the switch and produce a huge display? In my experience, it’s possible. With the right attitude and the right opposition, teams can produce big performances at Croke Park.
“It’s the first championship game they’ve gone into as underdogs all year too,” he continued.
“They were overwhelming favourites to bear London, Galway, Fermanagh, Kildare and Westmeath.
“Now the pressure is on Tyrone to deliver as favourites.”
Casey has a number of specific concerns from a Mayo perspective heading into their second All-Ireland series contest against Tyrone four seasons.
But chief among them are the injury worries around Young Footballer of the Year, Diarmuid O’Connor, and Casey’s fellow Charlestown clubman, Tom Parsons.
“If we’re to have any chance of winning, Diarmuid O’Connor has to play. But how bad is his injury? We just don’t know.
“The fact that Tom Parsons only got a few minutes at the end against Westmeath would suggest to me that he won’t start. “I felt he needed twenty minutes if he was right to play in the quarter-final.
“You’re going to need their sort of athleticism and running power on Saturday to open up a team like Tyrone.”
Casey has been talking football all week in the build-up to Mayo’s sixth successive All-Ireland quarter-final while working in the family’s hardware shop in the centre of Charlestown.
It has left him in no doubt about the magnitude of the match from a Mayo perspective.
“The team are under pressure, there’s no question about that,” he says.
“It’s a massive game for the players’ reputations after the stance that the players took last year in voting to remove Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes.
“There are certainly plenty of people out there waiting for them to fall.
“But Saturday is a one-off game where anything could happen. I think it’s a 50/50 game, and if the real Mayo turn up, I think they can win.”
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