Posted by Mickey Harte

Mayo should avoid a major shock to reach another Connacht final while it is set to be much closer in the Ulster clash

2012 Donegal

Mayo are 1/80 to defeat Leitrim in their Connacht semi-final and should justify those odds to set up a final meeting with Sligo.

If you’re playing against a Kerry, a Dublin or a Cork there’s no harm in being the underdog. From our perspective, there are times when it suits to be the underdog but then there are times when it is good to be the favourite.

If a team is placed as favourites by the pundits and bookies then it means they must have the quality of players capable of winning the particular game.

Both Mayo and Leitrim are looking at this from very different perspectives. Leitrim are going in with nothing to lose. They are the real underdog, coming from the lower division, and there has been no real breakthrough to date where a team from Division 4 has toppled a team from the top flight. And it’s very unlikely to happen this season.

But it has happened that a complete outsider has beaten a red-hot favourite so, from that point of view, Mayo need to be on their guard. I think that because Mayo have played to such a high standard all year and reached the league final, at the moment they have more good footballers than Leitrim.

Leitrim are to be complemented on the fact that they always pose a threat at some stage of the season to some team in Connacht. They are up against a Mayo side that probably have their sights set far higher than a Connacht title so it will be too much to ask of Leitrim to cause an upset.

It’s a pity for Leitrim that they have lost so many players from the panel in the last two years. Emigration is affecting many counties but some of the bigger ones are better equipped to deal with that loss and remain competitive. But a county such as Leitrim, which has a small population to begin with, needs all of its players available all of the time while also trying to keep them injury-free.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. At any given time there may be four, five or six players unavailable and that can be right across the spectrum from first-team players to panellists. And if you’re working from a smaller base in terms of numbers, as Leitrim are, that makes a huge impact on their chances of achieving anything.

They would be hoping that they can get out of this game without getting overrun and that they will gain some confidence, get a good qualifier draw and a few championship games for themselves. That would be their goal whereas Mayo’s would be to win an All-Ireland.

James Horan has been rebuilding the confidence of the team since he took over. We all know Mayo have always had good players and could beat anybody. Beating Cork last year was a huge boost for them to give them confidence as much as anything else. Unfortunately for them they couldn’t follow it up with a win over Kerry.

They beat the same side in the league semi-final in a close encounter and to have beaten those two, as well as dishing out a 12-point hammering to Dublin, is indicative of their renewed confidence. They now know they can take on the big sides and beat them, albeit over the course of last year’s championship and the recent league campaign.

They know they have the quality of players and now James is introducing an element of youth to the team. Some of the players have been there for quite a long time. He has retained that experience but is now integrating the players who have come through from Mayo’s always healthy underage teams. It’s now a matter of breaking down the process of trying to get over the All-Ireland hoodoo and that is what they are going through at the moment.

DOWN REACHED the All-Ireland final in James McCartan’s first season in charge and although that raised expectations in the county it should also give them the confidence to know they have the players to get to that level. It’s all about building up momentum and then you see players who get on a roll and become different propositions.

There’s no reason why Down can’t repeat their performances from a couple of years ago, especially now they are one step away from a first Ulster final in nine years. However, Monaghan are a very solid team and the win in the championship as well as Tommy Freeman’s return makes them a much more formidable outfit. That win against Antrim will have brought them on a lot so I think it will be a very close encounter this weekend. I know James will be very much on his guard knowing the threat Monaghan will pose to his side.

Down have lost some important players to the AFL in recent years and I’m not a fan of losing our best players to anybody, be it soccer, rugby or Australian Rules football. I’m not saying that we should interfere with players’ personal choices and decisions. If someone wants to switch to a professional sport, it’s their right to do so.

The problem I always have is that there is no liaison with the IRFU so we can share our best players with them. There is no liaison with the FAI or the IFA or the English FA to say “we have great players who can play soccer and we’re putting them in the shop window for you to judge them”. But we have that arrangement with the AFL and I disagree with it.

It’s an organisation creating this market for players to go to the AFL and I have a problem with that. It’s not the fact that individuals may want to go to Australia and, if they do, then good luck to them. I’m delighted that nobody in Tyrone has gone and I’m hoping that continues to be the case.