Clear eyes focused on Clare challenge

For the first time in 19 years Mayo will make the journey to Ennis for a National Football League game against Clare next weekend, with promotion to division one on the line.

That game in 2002 saw the then defending league champions, Mayo, see off the Munster men with ease, running out 2-19 to 1-6 winners, with James Horan kicking a point that day for Mayo from the full forward spot.

The game has been fixed for Sunday week, June 13 with a 1.45pm throw-in and Mayo supporters will be able to watch their side in action for the last time before the championship throws in a fortnight later, with the game being broadcast live on Tg4.

While it is 19 years since Mayo played a league game in Ennis against Clare, the two sides did tussle in the sunshine there during the All Ireland Football Championship qualifiers in 2017, with Mayo running out 2-14 to 0-13 winners en-route to the All Ireland final that year.

The ground will also hold happy memories for Mayo supporters with both the 2006 and 2016 All Ireland winning u21 finals taking place in Cusack Park.

Colm Collins' side finished in second place in the standings in Division Two South, with wins under their belts against Laois and Kildare in their first two games and a defeat against Cork last Sunday. Their one point loss to the Rebels was enough to make sure they stayed in the top two of the promotion hunt, as they edged Cork on, scoring difference for a spot in the play-offs after themselves Cork and Kildare all finished on four points in the standings.

It was also the day their veteran David Tubridy became the top scoring player in the history of the National Football Leagues, with his 1-8 in that game moving him past Sligo's Mickey Kearns, to a total of 22-412 (478 points ) over his 14-year-career with the Banner County.

Clare manager, Colm Collins, has spent the best part of the last decade moulding and shaping his side into a tough competitive outfit, who are now standing in the way of stopping Mayo making it back to the top flight of league football at the first attempt.

While Clare were battling it out with Cork last Sunday, Mayo were getting the job done in MacHale Park against Meath to ensure they were keeping things ticking over nicely.

With a place in the semi-final already assured before the game, it gave both managers a chance to try out some new or returning faces and in the case of Andy McEntee, make eight changes before throw-in from the team he named. James Horan made two changes to the Mayo team which he had named in the lead-up to the game before throw-in, with Ryan O'Donoghue and Jack Carney getting the nod.

The inclusion of Carney gave the Kilmeena man a chance to show his ability to hang with those at the top level in the game and he put in a fine showing. The game was also a chance for the likes of Eoghan O'Donoghue, Stephen Coen and Fergal Boland to get some game time into their legs in the Mayo defence for the first time this season. The selection of Boland at wing back was an interesting departure, with the Aghamore man playing his football normally in the half-forward line.

Darren McHale also got the chance to show his stuff in the half forward line, the Knockmore attacker slotted in well to the position and ended his day with two points to his name and will have given James Horan more to think about before next weekend's game with Clare.

Charlestown's Paul Towey got 35 minutes of football into his legs after coming on as a half-time replacement for Cillian O'Connor and while he didn't get as much ball as he might have if he had started the game, he'll still be happy with his three point return when all is said and done.

A big boost for Mayo was the return to the field of Aidan O'Shea for the first time this season, he came on as a second half sub replacing Carney and kicked a point with his first play of the day; with much bigger challenges coming down the line, having O'Shea back and playing will be a major boost for Horan as he plots out the summer.


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