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Mayo's Cillian O'Connor celebrates with team-mate Alex Corduff, right, after scoring a goal during their All-Ireland MFC semi-final against Down

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor celebrates with team-mate Alex Corduff, right, after scoring a goal during their All-Ireland MFC semi-final against Down

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor celebrates with team-mate Alex Corduff, right, after scoring a goal during their All-Ireland MFC semi-final against Down

SUNDAY marks Mayo's fourth All-Ireland minor final appearance of the decade, a record that shows them to be one of the outstanding counties of recent times in the grade.

However, as with many things relating to Mayo football, that feat comes with an asterisk.

Their three decisive final appearances since 2000 have ended in defeat by a sum total of 20 points while, at odds of 13/8, the bookmakers expect Ray Dempsey's side to suffer a similar fate when they face Armagh in this weekend's curtain-raiser.

Their record is in stark contrast to that of Tyrone. Last year, the O'Neill County collected their third title in as many final appearances since 2001 when they edged Mayo out after a replay.

It was also probably the most galling of the Connacht men's defeats as they looked to be in control heading into the final minutes, only for Tyrone to equalise through a late Matthew Donnelly point.

impact

In the replay, the Ulster side had five points to spare at Longford's Pearse Park. And while Tyrone have proved adept at bringing through their young talent to senior level, many of Mayo's talented young sides have failed to have a similar impact at senior championship level.

In 2000, a Cork side inspired by James Masters and featuring Noel O'Leary had five points to spare over a Mayo team that included current stars Conor Mortimer and Alan Dillon. That defeat came just 12 months after they had lost the 1999 final to Benny Coulter's Down.

Fast forward to 2005, when soon-to-be AFL recruit Martin Clarke was the star of the show as Down prevailed over a Mayo team that contained the likes of Ger Cafferkey, Tom Cunniffe and David Kilcullen.

Incidentally, Pearce Hanley also featured in that side and he too would make his way Down Under to pursue a professional career in sport.

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It's too soon to say how many of last year's team can make the step up to senior grade, though Aidan O'Shea has already progressed to John O'Mahony's panel.

Other counties have managed to produce more senior footballers from teams that appeared in minor finals.

Footballing kings Kerry have made just two final appearances since 2000 at minor level but those teams have produced players that have gone on to fit effortlessly into Sam Maguire-winning teams. Mayo have made twice as many appearances but have not enjoyed similar success.

The most successful county of the decade at minor level, Tyrone, have brought through a host of players that would help form the backbone of their senior sides. John Devine, Sean Cavanagh, Joe McMahon, Tommy McGuigan and Martin Penrose were all part of the victorious 2001 side that proved too strong for Dublin after a replay.

That day, the capital's side featured a few faces that would become familiar with facing Tyrone, such as Paul Griffin, Bryan Cullen and David O'Callaghan, who has since returned to hurling.

The Tyrone class of 2004 were led by Raymond Mulgrew, Colm Cavanagh, Aidan Cassidy and PJ Quinn while Mickey Harte is on the record as saying that he expects around six of last year's victorious team to feature on his side in the next season or two. It hasn't been quite that good for Mayo.

To compound their misery, Galway popped up to win an All-Ireland in 2007 in what was their first appearance in a minor final since 1994.

But in Dempsey they have a measured manager who parked last year's All-Ireland defeat almost as soon as it was over.

He's well aware of the desire within the county for some form of All-Ireland success after being part of the defeated senior teams in 1989 and 1996. To say they are due one is an understatement -- they are due several -- but whether that will start on Sunday remains to be seen.


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