Mayo face stiff first test against Donegal

GAA: National Football League

Nice to meet you: Brendan Harrison looks to escape the clutches of Michael Murphy in the last league meeting between Mayo and Donegal in January 2020. Photo: Sportsfile.

Nice to meet you: Brendan Harrison looks to escape the clutches of Michael Murphy in the last league meeting between Mayo and Donegal in January 2020. Photo: Sportsfile.

All roads lead towards Markievicz Park on Sunday for Mayo - as they start their return to life in Division One of the National Football League with a home game against Donegal in the neutral venue in Sligo.

Ongoing resurfacing works at Hastings Insurance McHale Park, will see all Mayo's league games take place on the road this year. With restrictions eased last weekend a bumper crowd of Mayo supporters is expected to make the trip to the Yeats County venue for the game.

Mayo manager, James Horan, has named a very strong team for Mayo's opening Allianz National Football League game against Donegal this weekend with nine players that started last year's All-Ireland Football Final against Tyrone, listed to start.

Jason Doherty makes his first appearance in almost two and a half years, his last game was also against Donegal in the Super 8's in 2019.

Eoghan McLaughlin and Conor O'Shea all return to the starting fifteen with Castlebar Mitchell's Donnacha McHugh making his league debut at center-back.

McLaughlin is joined on the team by his Westport GAA club mates Lee Keegan at corner-back and Fionn McDonagh at wing forward.

Lee Keegan will make his 130th league and championship appearance this Sunday. Knockmore's Aiden Orme makes his first start at center-forward and this will make it his first start in the league, last year Aiden made four sub appearances.

The team will be captained by Stephen Coen Hollymount/Carramore. Regulars Aidan O'Shea, a returning Brendan Harrison, Michael Plunket, Bryan Walsh and Jordan Flynn are all named amongst the substitutes. Newcomers Sam Callinan, Ruairí Keane, Frank Irwin and Pearse Ruttledge are also named on the bench.

One man Mayo won't have to call on in this game is Matthew Ruane, with the Breaffy man starting a two-game suspension following his sending off in last year's All Ireland final loss to Tyrone, a suspension his manager James Horan thinks was a bit tough. "I think it is harsh. When it is different years, different competitions, and you see players get sent off last weekend in the provincial competition and it doesn’t have any impact on the National League (this year )."

"It seems harsh, but it is what it is, we knew at the end of last season, so we’ve dealt with that and moved on. Mattie is training well, he knows he’s out of contention for the first two games, there are other guys itching to get some game time, we just had to move on from it."

Another man who will be out for a bit longer before he can make his return is Cillian O'Connor, but he is on the way back and should be available soon enough, his manager said: "That last day I was talking to ye, the phase of rehab was going very well. The next phase is a bit slower than that, it looks like round four or five of the league, it is around that, I could be a round or two out there too. But hopefully, we’ll see something there."

One man that Mayo fans are excited to see is Oisin Mullin after the young Kilmaine man turned down the opportunity to head Down Under and play professionally in the AFL and Horan is delighted to have him on board for the coming season, after a lengthy decision-making period by the two-time Young Player of the Year ended.

"With the length of time, you knew it was a difficult decision for him. He has a very strong, a huge connection with the group, with that Mayo team, a lot of them go fishing together – they are close buddies. Weighing all that up, it was going to take a bit of time for him, it was an exciting opportunity, but it’s an exciting opportunity here as well and we are delighted to have him back training with us."

Lee Keegan is also back in situ for another season, Horan confirmed this week, and while he has not joined up yet after a lengthy campaign with his club Knockmore, Kevin McLoughlin is expected to return to the fold soon, Horan said: "I spoke to Kevin, Kevin isn’t with us at the moment, but the club season is not long over and I think Kevin has had 15 seasons at this stage, he is taking a week or two, but Kevin will be back with us in the coming weeks."

As for this weekend, Horan confirmed that Enda Hession isn't available for selection at the moment, nor is Conor McStay who "had been training very well" with the senior set-up since he got called in. He also added that Fergal Boland picked up a knock playing for Tooreen last weekend, but is hopefully going to be ok, with both Jason Doherty and Mark Moran back on the field and training well ahead of the game.

Mayo team v Donegal: Robert Hennelly; Lee Keegan, Stephen Coen, Padraig O'Hora; Paddy Durcan, Donnacha McHugh, Eoghan McLaughlin; Conor O'Shea, Conor Loftus; Fionn McDonagh, Aiden Orme, Diarmuid O'Connor, Tommy Conroy, Jason Doherty, Ryan O'Donoghue. Subs: Rory Byrne, Sam Callinan, Brendan Harrison, Michael Plunkett, Ruairi Kean, Aidan O'Shea, Jordan Flynn, Pearse Ruttledge, Bryan Walsh, Paul Towey, Frank Irwin.


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