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Preview: Nickey Rackard Cup Final

Declan Coulter has impressed again for Donegal in 2021.

Declan Coulter has impressed again for Donegal in 2021.

Sunday November 22

Nickey Rackard Cup Final

Donegal v Mayo, Croke Park, 1.30pm

Like Sunday’s Christy Ring Cup Final, the Nickey Rackard Cup decider pits two former champions against each other at Croke Park.

Donegal are in their fourth Nickey Rackard final, having won two of their three previous appearances in 2013 and 2018. Regular Christy Ring competitors Mayo made their last run to GAA HQ count by lifting the 2016 title; having seen off Donegal at the semi-final stage.

These sides were separated by two tiers this year in the Allianz Hurling League, but their paths will cross in 2021 after Mayo’s relegation from Division 2A and Donegal’s successful campaign in Division 3A. Both teams have three wins to their credit en route to this final. Donegal’s upward graph has continued, as they have produced steadily improving performances in seeing off Longford and fellow Ulster counties Armagh and Tyrone. Meanwhile, Mayo left their difficult league campaign in the past by powering their way to comprehensive victories at the expense of Monaghan, Tyrone and Leitrim.

Mayo have racked up a huge 7-78 in three games for a huge average score of 33 points, while Donegal’s 8-51 gives them an average tally of 25 points. The Connacht side also have the advantage on defensive records to date, having conceded 14 points less than Sunday’s opponents: 3-30 to 3-44.

Mayo have undergone a transition since their victory four years ago, with just four of the starting team that beat Armagh in that final remaining in the first 15 last weekend, namely Shane Boland, Seán Regan, David Kenny and Cathal Freeman. Boland has been in prolific form in this campaign with a 1-31 haul that makes him the competition’s top scorer, while Regan, Freeman, Brian Morley, Jason Coyne and Adrian Phillips have also been regulars on the scoresheet. Stephen Coyne and David Kenny backbone the defence for Derek Walsh’s side, along with Seán Regan and ‘marathon man’ Freeman, who made good use of the time on his hands back in April to raise over €60,000 for the HSE and the Irish Cancer Society.

Donegal can still call on the bulk of their team from 2018, while Joe Boyle, Danny Cullen, Ronan McDermott, Seán McVeigh, Ciarán Mathewson and Lee Henderson all remain involved from their first Nicky Rackard title back in 2013. Mickey McCann has had to deal with the absence of several key players in different games, with attackers Declan Coulter, Davin Flynn and Bernard Lafferty and the versatile Cullen all sitting out at least one game, but they hope to have a full panel to pick from for the final.

Jack O’Loughlin and Gerard Gilmore made big impacts last weekend, with the latter hitting a brace of goals to help see off his former Tyrone team-mates, while Limerick native and ex-Kildare hurler Richie Ryan has also established himself as a goal threat. The availability of Coulter (a former Nickey Rackard winner with both Armagh and Donegal) and Tipperary native Flynn would be a significant boost to Donegal’s prospects of upsetting the odds.

With these teams both having racked up tallies of over 30 points in their semi-finals, another high-scoring encounter could be in prospect in the opener of Sunday’s double-header at Croke Park.

* TG4 will be live streaming both of Sunday’s finals on YouTube.

Donegal’s Nickey Rackard Cup scorers 2020: Jack O’Loughlin 0-12 (6f); Gerard Gilmore 2-5; Ronan McDermott 2-3; Richie Ryan 2-2; Declan Coulter 0-6 (4f); Conor O’Grady 1-2; Ciarán Mathewson, Davin Flynn (1f) 0-5 each; Kevin Kealy 1-1; Bernard Lafferty 0-3; Joe Boyle 0-2; Gavin Browne, Liam White, Josh Connolly, Lee Henderson, Danny Cullen 0-1 each.

Mayo’s Nickey Rackard Cup scorers 2020: Shane Boland 1-31 (0-24f); Brian Morley 2-5; Cathal Freeman 3-1; Jason Coyne 1-6; Seán Kenny 0-9 (3f, 2 ‘65s); Adrian Phillips 0-8; Eoin Delaney 0-4; Cormac Phillips, Corey Scahill 0-3 each; Liam Lavin, David Kenny 0-2 each; James Gallagher, Daniel Huane, Seán Mulroy, Seán Regan 0-1 each.


Shane Boland (Mayo) 1-31

Damian Casey (Tyrone) 0-30

Nathan Curry (Armagh) 1-13

Gavin O'Hagan (Leitrim) 0-16

Aidan Burns (Monaghan) 3-5

Shane Boland is the Nickey Rackard Cup’s top scorer after hitting 1-31 in three games during Mayo’s run to the final. Tyrone talisman Damian Casey falls just short of topping the scoring charts for a fifth time after averaging ten points per game in their path to another semi-final appearance. Armagh’s Nathan Curry and Gavin O’Hagan of Leitrim share third place, while the top five is completed by Aidan Burns, who hit 3-5 in his first two competitive appearances for Monaghan.