GAA: FBD Football League
August in Croke Park does not seem that long ago, but on Sunday the curtain will come up on the 2011 run of the never ending drama that is the Mayo senior football team’s quest for greatness. Whether this year’s performance is a great drama, a tragedy, or a comedy is yet to be decided by those who control the fates. The action gets under way in the FBD League on Sunday in Ballyhaunis at 2pm when Leitrim will make the trip south to the east Mayo venue. The two sides were scheduled to meet at the same stage of the competition last year, but it was called off due to a frozen pitch. While the winds and rain have been plaguing the county for the past number of weeks a repeat of the freeze off does not look to be on the play bill for this year’s debut performance.
This year is James Horan's second year in the leading role as Mayo manager and the Ballintubber clubman is looking forward to getting the year up and running on Sunday as he told the Mayo Advertiser this week. “I'm looking forward to it, getting back out on the pitch and getting some work done and see where we are and where we have to go.”
With the collective training ban stopping any proper dress rehearsals until New Year’s Day, there hasn't been much time to get much proper work on the field done as Horan explained. “I don't understand it really, the training ban at the moment. We've done a lot a work in the gym with players, but we had our first session on the field earlier in the week in Ballinrobe where you can see really where you are and then were back out playing our first game on Sunday.”
Looking for new talent
The quest to find new talent is a never ending cycle and this year will be no different, and the Mayo management have been working with some of the younger potential stars of the future to try to blend them into the current cast of actors, Horan said. “We've brought in a few lads from the minors and u21s to do some conditioning work, some will stay with us for a while and we'll have a look others who will go back to the other squads. It's all about making use of the FBD and having a look at as many as we can.” However as is the nature of the competition, he will have to plan without a number of key players who are tied up in this competition and other provincial dress rehearsals with their colleges and universities, but that can be an advantage to others on the periphery he said. “It's a bit bizarre all right that we have lads playing with DIT, DCU, UCD, Sligo IT, and others who would normally be involved at the beginning of the year if we had the choice. But the flip side is that with those lads not being available we'll be able to have a look and give time to other lads we might not have been able to if we were playing from the full deck.” Apart from the players who are tied up with the third level sides, Horan has more or less everyone to choose from who would be available, apart from last year’s All Star winner Andy Moran and Trevor Mortimer who are both coming back from long term injuries picked up late last year.
New thinking on the sideline
Despite having a great first year which saw a Connacht title win and knocking the then All Ireland champions Cork out at the quarter final stage, Horan has shaken up his back-room and brought in the experienced Dr Cian O'Neill as the team trainer. The UL course director for physical education was most recently involved with the Tipperary senior hurling team who won the All Ireland in 2010, before coming on board with Mayo at the tail end of last year. O'Neill is just the calibre of trainer that Mayo were looking for according to the Mayo manager. “We said all along that we wanted to have top class coaching for the team and this year we are in a lucky position to have a top class coach, who has been there and been involved in an All Ireland winning set up. That's the kind of quality and experience that we want and need.”
Nothing is won and lost in early January of note and Horan is hoping that the FBD will give his side a good run in to the start of the National Football League in early February and see them perform better in the competition than they did last time around. “Every year you aim high and try and be better than the last year, this year is no different. We're a bit further on this year as this time last year we were coming in cold as it was my first year. That showed a bit in the league when we weren't all there and we conceded a lot of goals in games. But everyone knows what we want this year and it should set us up better for when the national league comes around.”
All go from here on in
It is all go for Mayo over the next three Sundays, starting off with Leitrim on Sunday in Ballyhaunis, it is then followed up with GMIT coming to Ballinrobe on Sunday week, January 15, and then with a trip to Ballinlough on Sunday January 22 to round off the group stages of the competition. If Mayo manage to come through and top the group they will have the FBD League home final on Sunday January 29, with the National Football League throwing in the following Saturday night against Laois in Portlaoise under the lights at 7pm.