It’s a novel All-Ireland final pairing as Mayo take on Tyrone on Saturday evening.

Certainly, it’s a pairing that few would have predicted even at the semi-final stage, when the consensus was that Kerry would advance to try to stop Dublin’s quest for a seventh straight title, but two epic extra-time clashes saw the outsiders prevail in both.

Westmeath’s John Heslin experienced Mayo at close quarters as the Lake County lost to them by five points in the Allianz Football League earlier this year. At the time, the Mayo squad was in a mild state of flux after some turnover of players during the winter but, despite trailing to Galway in the Connacht final and then Dublin in the semi, they were able to dig deep to turn things around.

Managing that turnover was James Horan, who Heslin highlights as a key component in the side’s turnaround: “Young lads have come in, having won a good bit underage and they have that winning mentality. A lot of credit must go to James Horan as well – changes he made in the semi-final had a huge impact on the result.

“They obviously had a gameplan, and at half-time it wasn’t looking good, but in that dressing room they’d have a belief built up over the years and they just kept plugging away and they believed in themselves and got over the line.”

Then, a fortnight later, Tyrone came through their delayed semi, despite the various Covid-19 issues in their camp. Now, with more focus on Mayo ahead of the final, Heslin feels the Red Hands are in a nice position.

“Looking at it as an outsider, you’d say that it’s bonus territory for Tyrone,” he says.

“They wouldn’t have been in too many people’s All-Ireland final pairings so in that sense they’re going in without much pressure.

“There’s probably a bit more on Mayo because people would say that this is the time to do it now, having beaten Dublin and all the rest, but I’m sure that they won’t be buying into that. They’ll want to improve on the performance against Dublin because there are plenty of areas where they can. If they do that, they’ll be very hard to stop.”

And how will it go?

“I’d probably be leaning towards Mayo, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tyrone win either!” Heslin laughs.

“They both play a fast-paced attacking game, but I would expect Tyrone for large periods to hold on to the ball and starve Mayo of possession. I think it’ll be a huge battle in the middle eight for possession.

“Tyrone have no problem keeping the ball and working a score and I think that’s what we’ll see in the final.”

An upset of Royal proportions

It’s probably a bit too simplistic to suggest that Meath’s victory over Dublin in last Sunday’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ Football final was down to wearing jerseys sponsored by Kepak, but there was a certain familiarity to the visual, especially given the jersey design, gold netting permeating the green body.

The glory days of the Seán Boylan era were brought to mind, and the Royals’ emergence back then was also meteoric, as the rise of Eamon Murray’s team has been. Back in 2016, they lost to Cork by 7-22 to 0-3 and had dropped to Division 3 of the national league as well as the intermediate grade for championship, losing two finals before coming good last year.

They looked beaten against Cork in this year’s semi-final but even if they hadn’t scored two late goals to take the game to extra time, their campaign would still have been a positive one. They weren’t willing to settle, though, and managed to overcome the Rebels but even then there was a sense that Dublin’s experience, as they sought a fifth straight title, would be too much of an obstacle.

Not a bit of it, they stormed into the game, with Emma Duggan’s goal helping them to a five-point half-time lead. When they went 16 minutes without a score in the second half and Dublin cut the lead to two, many watching might have felt it was a film they had seen before, but those intermediate finals stood to Meath as they kept their composure and saw out the game with a cool display of keep-ball.

With 600,000 people tuned in to watch on TG4 it was a great advertisement for a game that is growing all the time.

If there was one pity, it was that current restrictions meant that the Brendan Martin Cup couldn’t come with the team over the border into Meath, but hopefully that didn’t dim the celebrations too much.

Maguire’s star turn propels Europe to victory

My Sunday evening Twitter timeline is often heavily populated with American golf discourse and last week there was some of that as the FedEx Cup came to a close, but the central focus was on the heroics of Leona Maguire in the Solheim Cup.

While she was a rookie in the competition, anyone who has followed her progress through the amateur ranks – holding the record for the longest spell as world number 1 – won’t have been surprised at how well she performed.

Maguire not only held her nerve, but flourished to lead all competitors by accumulating 4.5 points from her five outings, with a draw in Sunday’s four-balls the only blemish on an otherwise perfect weekend in Ohio. Moving into Monday’s singles, Maguire set Europe on their way again, claiming the first point of the day with a 5&4 win – the day’s largest margin of victory.

Maguire’s leading points total contributed handsomely to Europe’s victory on a scoreline of 15 points to America’s 13.

Team golf provides a very different dynamic to what players are used to, but ultimately it still does come down to one’s own self and the Cavan woman showed that she has what it takes to succeed in the pro ranks.

Searching for space as camogie continues to grow in popularity

Galway will appear in the All-Ireland senior camogie final for the third straight year when they take on Cork in Sunday’s decider at Croke Park.

Having beaten Kilkenny in 2019, the Tribeswomen lost their crown to the Cats last year but victory over Tipperary has brought them back to the final. Indicative of the rude health of the sport in the county are Athenry Camogie Club, for whom county panellists Dervla Higgins and Noreen Coen play.

Formed in 1973, the club boasts a membership of 430, the second-biggest in the country. Such a figure can only be a good thing but, given that they are reliant on the use of the grounds of St Mary’s Hurling Club, the surge in numbers has meant a drive to secure their own property.

“Necessary is the word,” says club stalwart PJ Molloy, an All-Ireland hurling winner with Galway in 1980 and 1987.

“We’d be depending on the hurling club and, as our numbers were growing, theirs were too. Pitches are a problem and we needed something of our own. It’s a slow process. We’re getting the site signed over at the moment and when that happens we could be doing a bit with it and the younger players could be using it.

“We’ve a fantastic committee, great hurlers like Brendan Keogh, Brian Feeney, Joe Rabbitte and Cathal Moore are all involved. They all have daughters, fortunately for us!”

To underwrite the considerable expense involved, Athenry are running a raffle on December 18, with the first prize of a house and car.

See for more.