It may not be that long in the grand scheme of things and with everything else that is going on around the country, it may seem like a very trivial matter. But to those, who follow the fortunes of the Mayo senior team tomorrow night couldn’t have come quick enough. A new year, a new start and a new manager, a new season and a chance to start putting the memory of Pearse Park in Longford last June, well into the past.
Saturday night will first for many things for Mayo GAA, it will be the first time that James Horan takes charge of the team in a national competition, the new floodlights after their trial run against GMIT in the FBD League will be up and running for their first meaningful competition. And while the FBD League is a welcome distraction as the first steps of a new year collides with the tail end of winter, the football starts to get serious from now on. With the third level colleges getting first pick on players and collective training only allowed to start after the champagne corks were popped at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the league while it Is not championship football, Is a good starter course to warm up for the do or die fare of the summer.
And coming to town to kick it all off are last year’s beaten All Ireland finalists Down, who picked up many admirers over the course of the summer just gone. The Ulster men will pose a serious test as James Horan acknowledged in the aftermath of Mayo’s facile win over Leitrim last Sunday. “Down have huge pace all over the field. They retain the ball very well and wait until the right shot is on, they’re very confident on the ball and when they break from midfield they do it with a huge amount of pace.” Asked about what he wanted to see during the league campaign Horan said it was all about development. “We have to develop as a team, that’s the target for the league. As we go on and develop as a team we will see where the gaps are and how we can fill them, then we can look at the situation again as it arises.” The Ballintubber man hasn’t been afraid to change things around either in his first few months in charge of the side. Into the starting line-up for Sunday come Cathal Hallinan at full back, Richie Feeney will take up station in the number five shirt in the half back line. Ronan McGarrity gets a new partner in the middle of the park with Jason Gibbons getting the nod in the number nine jersey. The front six are well known to all at this stage, but what is to note is that Alan Dillon has been given the nod as captain by his clubmate Horan, with Andy Moran named as his understudy.
The All-Ireland finalists will come to Castlebar with a number of players that will be missing from their starting line up. Dan McCartan, Kevin Duffin, Conor Gravey, Declan Rooney and Damien Rafferty will all be missing from their line up on Saturday evening. However they will still be able to call up the quality of players like Marty Clarke, Benny Coulter and Brendan McVeigh who will give Mayo a very stern test on Saturday night. While Mayo have to plan without Connor Mortimer for the rest of the season, with the likes of David Clarke, Seamus O’Shea and Donal Vaughan all still out on the injured list at the moment.
The game will be live on television on Setanta Sports One with throw in at 7.30pm, however if your going along admission has been reduced to €13 for the league this year for adults. You can see how Mayo got on by reading out match report which will be online on Saturday night at www.advertiser.ie/sport Mayo: K O'Malley; T Cunniffe, C Hallinan, K Higgins; R Feeney, G Cafferkey, K McLoughlin; R McGarrity, J Gibbons; A Moran, A O'Shea, A Dillon; E Varley, A Freeman, M Ronaldson.
Ladies go to Mallow for opener
On Sunday afternoon a new chapter will also open for Mayo Ladies GAA, when they open their account in division one of the national league. Mayo will be making the long trip to Mallow where they will take on Cork on Sunday at 2pm. This will be the first game in charge for new Mayo manager Jason Taniane who took charge of the side early in January. This promises to be a tough test for Taniane against last years league champions who have also been the dominate force in ladies football over the past number of years. In this years league Mayo will face Monaghan, Galway and Laois at home, while they will be on the road to Donegal, Tyrone and Kildare along with their season opener on Sunday. Mayo will be hoping to make it into the top for of the division thus make it into the league semi-finals.