New and older faces key to Mayo’s success

GAA: Connacht Senior Football Championship

On the break: Eoghan McLoughlin on the break for Mayo last weekend against Tyrone. Photo: Sportsfile

On the break: Eoghan McLoughlin on the break for Mayo last weekend against Tyrone. Photo: Sportsfile

The last time Mayo and Leitrim met on the football field was in James Horan’s first game of his second coming as Mayo manager, on a cold and dreary early January day last year.

On Sunday, both sides will renew their hostilities, with another game of Winter football where the weather can be the great leveller, as it has the potential to pull unimagined wild cards from the deck that can send the contest off in any direction.

Mayo will be looking to avoid those wild cards at all costs, as, a week after being sent packing to division two in the league for next year, being eliminated from the Connacht championship by Leitrim, is a fall they will not want to experience.

The FBD league is no indicator at all for how a year will pan out - but looking back on that last meeting between the two teams, only two of the Mayo side who started that day were in the starting 15 last Sunday - Lee Keegan and Stephen Coen.

The starting 15 Mayo sent out in that game was of course experimental because of the nature of the competition - but did still have Robbie Hennelly, Donal Vaughan, Eoghan O’Donoghue, Seamus O’Shea and Fergal Boland in it, all players who, we believe, are available for selection.

While others like Jason Doherty and Brendan Harrison would be expected to be key men for Mayo in any championship campaign - if the duo weren’t injured were also in that starting 15, as was Fionn McDonnagh who came off the bench against Tyrone.

While there have been few FBD League scraps between these counties over the past few years, it’s eight seasons since they jostled in championship action.

It was high summer fare when Mayo hosted Leitrim in the 2012 Connacht semi-final and the then reigning Connacht champions made short work of the O’Rourke County, running out 4-20 to 0-10 winners.

There were three survivors from that day lining out for Mayo last Sunday, with David Clarke, Kevin McLoughlin and Lee Keegan starting both that 2012 clash and last Sunday’s league meeting with Tyrone- three wily veterans who will be looked to by Horan to be leaders still for his side, as new fresh faces continue to stake their claims to be the future of Mayo football for the decade to come.

When it comes to the side that Horan will put out into action this weekend we will have to wait and see what team takes to the field at lunch-time on Sunday.

Over the course of the seven games in the league, Mayo used 35 different players with three players starting all seven games - they were Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O’Connor.

Another two played a part in all seven games, with team captain Aidan O’Shea starting six and coming on as sub in the league opener away to Donegal, while Tommy Conroy played in all seven games, starting three games and coming on a sub in four games.

Four players had a part to play in six games - with Oisin Mullin starting six games, Ryan O’Donoghue getting in the first 15 in four games and coming off the bench in two more.

Kevin McLoughlin spilt his six games evenly with three starts and three games coming off the bench and Lee Keegan was a sub in one game, but started five others for his six appearances for Mayo.

What we have seen from those most favoured over the course of the league campaign is that the next generation of leaders, Coen, O'Connor and Durcan, have got plenty of game time. As have the likes of Aidan O'Shea, Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin from the generation before - while Oisin Mullin, Ryan O'Donoghue and Tommy Conroy who are the next crop of stars have gotten plenty of game time.

The balancing act of getting the right mix of all three groupings is going to be key to Mayo's success this year - the future has to be trusted, but a steady hand of experience on the tiller cannot be done away with either.


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