Familiar foe for Mayo who start title defence

GAA: National Football League

Holding on: Patrick Durcan tries to hold onto the ball under pressure from Odhran McFadden Ferry in the Super 8 meeting between Mayo and Donegal last August. Photo: Sportsfile

Holding on: Patrick Durcan tries to hold onto the ball under pressure from Odhran McFadden Ferry in the Super 8 meeting between Mayo and Donegal last August. Photo: Sportsfile

Mayo manager James Horan will give four players their league debuts tomorrow night in the counties league opener against Donegal in a youthful and exciting looking team.

Getting their first league start for the county will be Oisin Mullin (Kilmaine ), Jordan Flynn (Crossmolina Deel Rovers ), Bryan Walsh (Ballintuber ) and Ryan O'Donoghue (Belmullet ).

Horan's team will see David Clarke return in goal, with a full back line of Oisin Mullin, Brendan Harrision and Colm Boyle in front of him. The half-back line will feature Ballina's Padraig O'Hora, Stephen Coen and Patrick Durcan who is for the second time this year will captain the side. Tom Parsons will partner Jordan Flynn in the middle of the park and the half-forward line will see Walsh slot in alongside Diarmuid O'Connor and Fergal Boland with the full forward line being made up by the trio of Ryan O'Donoghue, Brian Reape and James Carr.

The last time these sides met over 27,000 packed into MacHale Park on a wet and windy August Bank Holiday Saturday evening - to see Mayo progress to their eighth All Ireland semi-final in nine years.

Tomorrow evening the stakes are nowhere near as high - but the meeting of last years division one champions and the division two and Ulster winners will be a key testing ground as both sides plan for the season ahead.

This will be the sixth league meeting between the sides since 2013, with Mayo winning two of them in 2013 and 2017, Donegal winning the 2016 meeting and two other draws thrown into the mix in 2015 and in 2018.

The last league meeting in 2018 was significant with Kevin McLoughlin's late, late equalising score keeping Mayo in the top flight for last season, which theY eventually went on to win - sending Donegal down to division two for last term; the Ulster men bounced straight back up last year beating Meath in the division two final to cement their return to the top flight.

Donegal have two games under their belt this season, winning the two McKenna Cup games they played in the group stages, seeing off Monaghan 1-12 to 0-14 and Derry 1-10 to 0-8; however Donegal manager Declan Bonner didn't field a side in the semi-final of the competition, with Bonner saying that he wouldn't have the players to field a team, with 13 players involved in Sigerson Cup action on the same weekend as their semi-final was scheduled to take place.

Donegal will head into the game with a number of key players not expected to be available with Stephen McMenamin and Daire O'Baoill the latest to join the injury list, with the likes of Paddy McGrath, Jason McGee and Oisin Gallen also working their way back from injury.

Mayo have just the one competitive game under their belt so far this season - their FBD League encounter with Galway, which took place two weeks ago, with the Tribesmen edging the contest on penalties after a 1-17 each draw.

The Mayo team that took to the field against Galway in that game had just four survivors from the team that took to the field to start the All Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin last August, with Robert Hennelly, Brendan Harrison, Patrick Durcan and Diarmuid O'Connor the quartet to start both games.

Mayo have just three home games in this year's National Football League - they will follow up Saturday's trip to Ballybofey by welcoming Dublin to MacHale Park the following Saturday evening, before travelling to Meath the next weekend. They will then have a week off before they head on the road again to Clones to take on Monaghan on Sunday, February 23; the Saturday after, Kerry will come to Castlebar. On Sunday, March 15, they will travel to Galway before wrapping up their division one campaign with the visit of Tyrone to MacHale Park on Sunday, March 22.


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