Three weeks on from the being beaten by Sligo in the preliminary round of the Connacht Championship, Mayo will roll up to the midlands for the first round of the All Ireland qualifiers. The first round of the backdoor competition, while not quite uncharted territory, is one that is still not too familiar to Mayo players and supporters. In fact Mayo have only entered the qualifier system at this stage once before, also under the tutelage of O’Mahony in 2007. That year a comfortable win over Cavan in McHale Park was followed up with a humbling inside the city walls of Derry by the Oak Leaf county in the second round.
Tomorrow evening Longford will stand in Mayo’s way of making Monday morning’s draw for the second round of the competition. Glenn Ryan’s men operated out of division four of the National Football League, where they finished up in seventh place out of nine in the bottom tier of national football with only two wins to their names. They exited the Leinster Championship following a four point defeat to Louth in Portlaoise at the tail end of May, and will be waiting in the long grass for a wounded Mayo.
History has not been too kind to Mayo in the qualifier series, and this will be only the second time that Mayo have faced Leinster opposition in the backdoor. Eight years ago in 2002 was the only year that Mayo strung together a decent run of games in the second chance saloon. They entered the competition at the second round after losing to Galway in the Connacht semi-final, and saw off Roscommon, Limerick, and Tipperary before making it all the way to the All Ireland quarter final in Croke Park on an August Bank Holiday Monday before they went down by 0-16 to 1-10 to a Colm Corkery inspired rebels’ side. Only one player from that Mayo mid summer cross country adventure is still involved in the panel today, team captain Trevor Mortimer. In recent years the most Mayo have managed to string together is one win before being dumped out in the next round. Those wins in 2005 and 2007 both came at the expense of Cavan, before Kerry and Derry did the necessary in the next round and brought Mayo’s summer to an end.
With Mayo so underwhelming against Sligo in Markievicz Park, at the beginning of the month there were calls from supporters for widespread changes to the make up of Mayo’s starting 15 for this game. And while O’Mahony is seen by many as a very cautious coach he does have a history for shaking things up after Mayo performed under par and were knocked out of the championship early. After the defeat to Galway in Pearse Stadium in the preliminary round of the Connacht Championship in 2007 he made seven changes to the side for their next game against Cavan, bringing in David Clarke, Aidan Higgins, Trevor Howley, David Kilcullen, David Brady, Pearse Hanley, and Barry Moran into the side that were crushed by Galway a few weeks before. So the wholesale raft of changes for tomorrow’s game may not be just the pining of Mayo supporters.
Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week, O’Mahony said he knows that his side have to seriously up their performance from the Sligo game. “If we play like we did against Sligo we know that it’s not going to be good enough,” he said. “Longford have shown that they are a formidable side in the qualifiers over the years, only as recently as last Summer when they ran Kerry close. They also have a number of key players coming back such as Brian Kavanagh, so we know there will be nothing easy about it.”
After giving the players a week off after the Sligo game, preparations have been intensified ahead of tomorrow night’s encounter. “We came back together the night after the draw and training has been going very well since. The players know themselves that they didn’t perform well against Sligo and have been working hard. We also have the likes of Alan Dillon and Trevor Howley, who we didn’t risk against Sligo, back. We were also hindered that Chris Barrett was struck down with food poisoning the day before the game and he had to be pulled out of it.” When asked about any potential changes for tomorrow nights game O’Mahony said, “We’ll have to look at it when we meet on Thursday night for training and it might not be until before throw in that we name the side.” So the only place to be sure to see if John O’Mahony does ring the changes is Pearse Park in Longford tomorrow evening.
All Ireland Qualifiers
Longford v Mayo,
Pearse Park, At 7pm