James Horan has rung the changes ahead of Sunday’s Connacht Championship clash with Galway in McHale Park. The Ballintubber club man has made a total of six changes to the starting 15 from the side that narrowly avoided being eliminated from the provincial championship at the hands of the exiles in London last month. In defence back come into the team Keith Higgins who missed out against London due to injury and Trevor Mortimer at wing back. Horan has also opted for a whole new look midfield, with Breaffy duo and brothers Aidan and Seamus O’Shea manning the key sector of the field where they are expected to line up against Finian Hanley and Joe Bergin in the middle of the park. Kevin McLoughlin comes into the side in the half forward line alongside team captain Alan Dillon and Andy Moran, while Cillian O’Connor will make his first championship start for Mayo alongside Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty in the full forward line.
Mayo will have a number of options to choose from on the bench if needed on Sunday. Ronan McGarrity is deemed fit enough for a place there alongside the experience of Peadar Gardiner and David Clarke. One name of note is the number 26 named for Sunday, Shrule Glencorrib’s Mark Ronaldson, who had previously been left out of the panel after the league. But as the manager said at the time the door was always open for players to come back in and the Shrule Glencorrib man has forced his way back into the reckoning over the past few months.
Moving on post London
Having just scraped over the line in Ruislip and a very flat performance Horan believes that he has seen a upturn in the performance on the training field from his side. “There has definitely been a marked improvement since the London game, we got a real wake up call there. When lessons or events like that happen you have to make the most of them and try and implement what you’ve learned. We’re happy with the way things are going, there are a few players coming back but at the moment they are progressing the right way. Things have gone well since the London game, well things were going well before the London game too, but we have stepped up a notch and there is a natural progression that comes when big championship games are coming up.”
Mayo have had a number of injury problems so far this year which has hampered getting a settled starting side, but they are able to bring Keith Higgins back into the side after his hamstring injury picked up at the tail end of the league campaign has finally cleared up, but influential midfielder Ronan McGarrity has not been able to force his way into the starting side after his return from injury. But having both men back in the squad training has been a big boost said Horan. “It hasn’t been ideal, but we never complain about injuries there is no point, we are just happy to be getting guys back. We had Ronan McGarrity and Keith Higgins, obviously two senior players on the team who have been missing for quite a while, and they’re back, even having them back in training over the past few weeks has been a benefit for the team.”
The southern neighbours
As for the opponents on Sunday, Galway are expected to name a side with a number of new faces from their All Ireland winning u21 side mixed with more household names. A strong second half performance by Mayo in a league game in Tuam last spring was the last meeting of the sides, but Horan will not be reading too much into that result.
“I wouldn’t read too much into that league game, and I wouldn’t agree that we gave them a good hammering either. The result went our way and we had a good few points to spare. But if you think back on that game in the first half Galway had three very good goal chances and Rob Hennelly made some good saves to keep them out. If they even got one of those they would have been up at half time and it would have been a different game. The way it turned out was that we got a couple of goals and we kicked on with a few points and pulled away at the end, but if one of those chances had gone in for them it could have been a very different game. They are bringing in a lot of young lads, we don’t know how many will be playing, but there is still a number of lads that we’ve known for years who will be playing, the likes of Padraig Joyce, Joe Bergin, Finian Hanley and Gareth Bradshaw we’ve come up against them before and we know what they’re like.”
Facing the home crowd
As Horan faces into his first championship game on home soil in front of the Mayo faithful he remarked that he is happy the way things have gone for him in his first few months as a senior inter county manager, but there is a lot of work still to be done. “Some of the results aren’t what I expected or some of the performances, but look, over all it’s been very enjoyable. There is a huge network and support base and very genuine people involved in Mayo football all over the place. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’m happy the way things are going. We have a lot of work to do and progress to make but we’re moving there.”