After the pre-season warm up session on the far side of the Atlantic it’s back to more traditional fare, albeit on a Saturday evening for Mayo. And with McHale Park getting the go ahead, it’s all systems go for the welcoming of Roscommon to Castlebar for the first time in five years, and four years after the sides last met in the Connacht Championship.
The fierce rivalry between these cross border rivals means this game promises to be an explosive kickstart to the championship proper for Mayo and with Roscommon having come through a tough enough examination at the hands of Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon a few weeks ago when they overcame a difficult start to see off their hosts.
The big news going into the game was the omission of Conor Mortimer and Tom Parsons from the side, John O’Mahony, speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week, said there were a lot of factors to be considered before he selected the side. “There were a lot of different things to consider including fitness, form, and the competition for places, with people putting themselves in the frame for the team. Conor has made a tremendous effort to get himself ready for this game. He played a few minutes in the club championship, then a full league game, and then some time with us in a challenge game. Tom is just out of exams and has had a groin issue. All these things have to be taken into consideration when your picking a side that will be fully match fit for a game. We have picked 15 players, but it’s a 20 man game these days and having a strong bench is a very important thing, and we may have to make a few changes during the game and if not before. Liam O’Malley is working hard to be ready and we will be giving him all the time we can. He has all the training done and his fitness is not a problem, it’s a medical thing but were very hopeful that he will be fine.”
Getting the right mix at the back
Mayo go into the game with a number of injury headaches, with David Clarke ruled out of the game after picking up a groin injury against Louth in a challenge game a fortnight ago. His place between the posts will be taken by Kenneth O’Malley which will mark a wonderful comeback for the young Ballinrobe man who suffered a career threatening injury 18 months ago. With O’Malley moving up to the starting 15 his place on the bench will be taken by 19-year-old Breaffy man Robert Hennelly who has stared with the Mayo minors and u21s in the last 12 months.
There were fears earlier this week that Liam O’Malley would miss the game after picking up an ankle injury in training last week, but the Burrishoole man looks to have come through well enough to be named in the side at right corner back. Ger Cafferkey gets the nod at full back, a position he has nailed down since the start of the league this season, and he will be flanked in the other corner by Keith Higgins who missed the league after heading to Australia for the winter and has got up to championship speed since returning with the senior hurling side on their Christy Ring Cup adventure.
With Tom Cunniffe out injured for what will be a longer spell that was initially anticipated, Trevor Howley has been given the nod at centre half back. The Knockmore man himself had a very injury ravaged season last year and will be looking to stake a long-term claim for the spot after Cunniffe looked to be the front runner for the position after an impressive league run there. Peadar Gardiner will be operating on the flank as expected, and Andy Moran will take up a posting on the other. The Ballaghaderreen man has become Mr Versatility for Mayo in the last year or so, with his best position appearing not to be nailed down. With Parsons not making the cut for the final 15, David Heaney comes into the middle of the park to partner Ronan McGarrity. Heaney would have been a option in the half back line if he was needed, which could also be part of the reasoning for Moran’s recall back to defensive duty.
The Mayo half forward line has a look of real quality about it, with Alan Dillon slotting into his customary number 12 jersey and playmaker roll, while captain Trevor Mortimer will be a barrel or energy and intensity on the 40, and Pat Harte who has impressed this year donning the number 10 shirt for the game.
The big change from this Mayo side to anyone that has gone out into championship action in the last number of years is the absence of a certain Shrule-Glencorrib corner forward from the side. With Conor Mortimer not in the starting line-up Aidan Kilcoyne will come in for what will be only his second championship start in a green and red shirt. The Knockmore man has been banging at the door for a number of years and will be eager to grab his chance with both hands. Kilcoyne will be the small man in the full-forward line when he lines up with Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran, two towering attackers whom Mayo will look to bombard with balls as they try to see off Roscommon.
Roscommon not to be underestimated
The last time that the Nestor Cup wintered in the primrose and blue county was in 2001, when a side captained by current manager Fergal O’Donnell saw off Pat Holmes’ then league champions thanks to a goal by Gerry Lohan six minutes into injury time. From that Mayo side only this year’s captain, Trevor Mortimer, and James Nallen remain in the Mayo set up this year, while O’Donnell will be hoping that he is able to inspire the kind of team commitment that saw his minor side of 2006 claim a famous minor All Ireland win for Hyde Park men. That same season saw Mayo claim the All Ireland u21 football title and a number of that graduating class will be expected to put on a good show on Saturday if needed.
Roscommon despite operating out of division three this season in the league and failing to get promotion will leave everything they have on the field on Saturday and with the likes of the experienced Gary Cox, Geoffrey Claffey, and Seanie McDermott combined with a handful of their minor stars from 2006 like Donnie Shine are not to be underestimated. And underestimating is something John O’Mahony doesn’t do. “I was at their game against Leitrim and was very impressed with the way they came back after conceding an early goal to come back and score two of their own before half time and come back again when Leitrim scored their second goal. You can see the real stamp of Fergal O’Donnell on this side and they have a good mix of experience between the younger players and more experienced lads. Taking them lightly is something we’re not doing, but I have full confidence in our lads ability to win this game. “