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Mayo must summon spirit of Croker fightback to keep top-flight status intact

TOMORROW could be a case of 'Sunday, bloody Sunday' for Mayo if the scar tissue from last year's Allianz Football League Division 1 final has not fully healed.

Relegation looms if they lose at McHale Park, Castlebar, where the Rebels can clinch a place in the league final for the second successive year by winning their sixth match of the campaign.

Conor Counihan's men really shook the Mayo team to the core with their commanding performance in winning the 2010 decider, shattering a well-nurtured level of confidence that evaporated after that result.

Championship defeats to Sligo and then in the first round of qualifiers against Longford saw Mayo ending their season tamely before the month of June was out.

Almost 12 months after that pivotal league final at Croke Park, one wonders if the fallout still lingers.

Mayo, with just one win, one draw, and three defeats in the league to date, are in a perilous position; their top-level status under serious threat.

Their performances so far under new manager James Horan have presented more questions than answers, and only a radical form upset can restore a sense of optimism among players and supporters.

Whether that is likely to occur against the reigning league and All-Ireland champions is a moot point.

We could also ponder the effect of the more recent wounds inflicted on the Mayo defence by the rampaging Dublin forward line two weeks ago.

Just 25 minutes had elapsed at Croke Park and the Boys in Blue had hit the Mayo net four times. Ouch!

Credit to the team in green and red. They could have chucked in the towel at half-time, but instead they rallied to score three goals themselves.

They still finished on the wrong end of the 4-15 to 3-13 scoreline, but what to make of it?

Was this a gallant recovery of some pride by Mayo, or a complete mental and physical switch-off by the Dubs?

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy felt it was the latter, and made clear his ire at players who eased off on their tracking back and tackling in the second half. From Gilroy's point of view, he was right to have a blast.

He has to hone his team mentally to the levels of Kerry and Tyrone at their best, and these sides, when they have the opposition on the rack, tend to ruthlessly press home their advantage.

What if Dublin had kept up the pressure and smashed Mayo?

It could have happened, and would have proven disastrous mentally.

However, from Horan's point of view, the westerners avoided that nightmare scenario and instead showed the heart and desire he hopes to build on for the Cork game at home and their final outing away to Monaghan. Be assured, said Horan, that he and his men have been "working like hell" to deal with the defensive issues that led to the Dublin goals, and to try and make the team much harder to beat.

Defender Keith Higgins, who was back from a holiday in Australia only a week when he was slotted in at full- back, felt that the goals conceded were "sloppy enough" and said the Mayo side were determined to cut out those errors in the future, starting tomorrow.

"Cork are a big, physical team but they also play good, fast football.

"They've got danger-men inside too, and it's going to be another step up. That's what we're going to have to match up to if we're going to make any impression in the championship," said Higgins.

Aidan O'Shea, who missed the Dublin match due to a calf strain, is fit again and will hope to cause the Cork defenders some problems.

On the debit side, midfielder Ronan McGarrity has been a doubt all week with a leg injury but intensive treatment may enable McGarrity to play some part in the match.

Cork boss Counihan expects a tough match but is boosted by the return of defender John Miskella, who has not played for his county since the All-Ireland final last September.

Paul Kerrigan also returns after Nemo Rangers' run to the All-Ireland Club semi-finals, while dual star Eoin Cadogan is also available.

Irish Independent