New challenges ahead for Mayo

GAA

Making the break: Who can break into the Mayo set up this season? Photo: Sportsfile

Making the break: Who can break into the Mayo set up this season? Photo: Sportsfile

The new year has broken and with it attention has firmly turned towards what the year holds in store for the Mayo footballers.

After four years away, James Horan is back in charge of the side and has spoken positively about the potential talent coming through from the underage ranks to replenish the stock he has inherited over the winter.

Breaking into the Mayo team over the past eight years has not been easy for anyone, with so many players playing at the top of their game for so long - making that step up a difficult task.

If we go back to Horan's first year in charge of Mayo in 2011 - where they reached the All Ireland semi-final at which they were beaten by Kerry - rounding off a season that saw them claim the first of five Connacht titles in a row; and then look at the team that started that day and compare it to the one that was knocked out by Kildare in Newbridge last summer - it is noticeable that there are still a lot of the same faces playing at the top level.

Six of the same players started both of those games: Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran, while two who came off the bench that day - Lee Keegan and Jason Doherty started against Kildare; while Donal Vaughan played the reverse role, starting against Kerry in 2011 and coming on as a sub in 2018 against Kildare. The number of players involved in both games would have been increased more if Seamus O'Shea hadn't picked up his injury against Tipperary in the round previous to Mayo's exit from the championship last season.

Those players have become the backbone of the Mayo success story over the past number of seasons and there is no sign of any of them throwing in the towel yet - while a few others like Diarmuid O'Connor, Paddy Durcan, Chris Barrett and Brendan Harrision, have nailed down their starting place - making the competition for places as fierce as ever.

Speaking before Christmas, Horan name-checked a few of the younger players he is excited about, such as Colm Moran, Colm Diskin, Ryan O'Donoghue, Brian Reape, Fionn McDonagh and Ciaran Tracey. All have the potential to be serious players and have plenty to offer Mayo - as do the graduating classes of the 2016 All Ireland u21 winning team and last year's All Ireland u20 finalists - but being able to break through and take the jersey off those who have controlled it for the past eight or so years is going to be no easy task for any of them.

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