As a player you want to be involved on Sunday, with championship coming up

GAA: Casey's Call

Where to fit him in? With Aidan O'Shea back in action for Mayo, where to fit him in will be a big question for James Horan. Photo: Sportsfile.

Where to fit him in? With Aidan O'Shea back in action for Mayo, where to fit him in will be a big question for James Horan. Photo: Sportsfile.

Colm Collins' Clare stand in the way of Mayo's immediate return to the top flight of GAA football.

League tables don't lie and after 20 odd years in division one, Mayo finally succumbed to their fate after losing to Tyrone in round seven on October 25 last year.

What has been impressive since then was winning back the Moclair cup, putting it up to the Dubs for long periods of the All-Ireland final and most importantly, the integration of a whole crop of new players both last year and this year.

I'm at a loss to tell you exactly how many Mayo débuts have been made since 2020 but it's certainly well into double figures. It's almost like James Horan envisaged the mass retirements in January and wanted the new kids on the block to gain some much-needed game time and to experience pressure football, to see how they’d handle the occasion.

This has augured really well so far and despite some hairy moments against Westmeath in round two of this year's league, Mayo have cantered into Sunday's must-win tie with Clare.

Lest we forget, the last time we played Clare in a game of importance was a round three qualifier in 2017. We did not have things our own way that day and needed two goals from the O'Connor brothers Diarmuid and Cillian to help us to a 2-14 to 0-13 win in Cusack Park Ennis, the venue for Sunday's league semi final.

Despite losing the ever-reliable Gary Brennan to retirement, Clare have a lot of outstanding footballers. Cathal O'Connor will put it up to the best in the middle of the field and when the 'Best 15' of this year's league is being considered, David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary's names will get considerable mention.

They have been quite phenomenal in Clare’s three league games so far, scoring heavily along the way; Tubridy hitting 1-08 last time out in Clare’s narrow loss to Cork. Those two will be the main topic of Mayo's defensive strategy on Sunday.

As we now know, there will be no division two final, this will be the last chance to see our team in competitive action until we take on Sligo on June 26 in the championship.

With all that has happened and the clustering of matches between league and championship and taking into account what's at stake, Sunday's line-up should give us a good idea of what way James Horan and his management are thinking with the championship around the corner.

Putting it mildly, as a player you want to be involved in some capacity on Sunday or else you are way down the pecking order. Trying to second guess managers is virtually impossible.

James Horan has a lot of options at his disposal, especially in the forward division, which is always a healthy state of affairs. It keeps everyone on their toes, the uncertainty of not knowing whether you are in the manager's immediate plans means you've got to prove yourself at every training session and every time you take to the field – be it in a competitive environment or a challenge game.

The returning Aiden O'Shea is a welcome boost to add to the headache when picking the team. The where-to-play-him conundrum seems to be the topic of conversation across the county. Mattie Ruane and Diarmuid O'Connor have developed a nicely balanced partnership in the middle of the field, both really hard working and both able to score when called upon.

Will Diarmuid O'Connor be moved into the half forward line for O'Shea? In the current climate, positions count for very little so no matter what number is on his back, I feel O'Shea is best suited and will be utilised out around the middle third where his considerable stature can be used to good effect.

He has a great technique for dispossessing opponents – as he showed when he came on at half time against Meath. On top of that, he attracts attention, which a lot of the time goes unnoticed but it frees up lots of space for his team mates. Whenever he's in possession opponents seem to want to have a cut off him, very often leaving their own man free.

Mayo are overwhelming favourites at 1/8 to beat Clare. I expect them to win by five points or thereabouts. It will be a significant morale boost heading into the championship knowing we will be dining at the top table of the league for 2022.

In contrast to Mayo's fortunes, the other Connacht counties have had somewhat disastrous campaigns. Sligo and Leitrim both rooted to the bottom of division four north while Galway and Roscommon have two very difficult relegation assignments away from home against Monaghan and Armagh to decide their division one fate.

Despite the local rivalry, I prefer to have as many Connacht teams as possible playing at a high level. It creates a healthy competitive environment for the province.


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