If you are a Castlebar based Mayo supporter and are planning on following the fortunes of James Horan’s Mayo side through all seven rounds in division one of the Allianz National Football League, the first leg of the 1,050 mile, 11 week odyssey will get under way tomorrow. There is no short away jaunts for Mayo this year as the league will take them on the road to Portlaoise, Armagh, Ballyshannon, and Tralee, two of those games, the trips to Laois and Armagh, to be undertaken on a Saturday night. While it looks like a daunting number of miles for those who are lucky to live close to the county town, you can add on another 400 miles for those hardy Gaels who hail from Belmullet who will follow the fortunes of the green and red.
But for those who will travel, the distance is of little concern, it is all eyes on football and that is all that matters and that gets a bit more serious tomorrow evening in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, where Justin McNulty’s newly crowned O’Byrne Shield champions will welcome Mayo. It was a case of job done for Mayo this day last week in the FBD League final, when they eased aside the challenge of a NUIG side. Tomorrow night’s encounter promises to be an uncompromising encounter against the men from the O’Moore County. In the FBD, Horan tried out 31 different players over the four games, with only goalkeeper David Clarke, Lee Keegan, Barry Moran, and Kevin McLoughlin starting all four games played in the competition. McLoughlin lined out in the half forward line in all those games, with Moran starting three in the middle of the park and the fourth at full forward, while Keegan who has been excellent in the FBD played at corner back in three of the games and as a wing back in the other game. Seamus O’Shea and Conor Mortimer both also played in all four contests with O’Shea making two starts and two sub appearances, while Mortimer made his comeback on the first day as a sub against Leitrim and has started every game since. Mortimer furthered his claim for an automatic starting berth by kicking 19 points in the three and bit games he played out of Mayo’s total of 4-49 over the four hours of football.
On Sunday Horan will welcome back for the first time his full complement of third level players into the fold, and will have be sweating on their not picking up any injuries over this week’s round of action in the Sigerson Cup. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week, Horan said: “I know that one of our lads had to come off in extra time during one of the games. It’s always a risk at that high level of competition that something like that can happen. I don’t know about the scheduling of the competition so close to the start of the league, it’s something that maybe could be looked at in the future.”
With the FBD title in the bag, Horan was happy that he was able to have a look at a good number of players over the past few weeks. “We used quite a few guys over the course of the FBD, around 30 or so. We gave a number of young lads that we know have plenty of ability a run, and we’ll continue to look at them and they could be needed later on in the year.”
One of the things that Horan said he wanted to see his side work on during the FBD and the upcoming league campaign was to stop the concession of goals, and with only one goal conceded over the first four games this year, there is still work to do, he said. “So far we’ve done well, but we conceded a soft one against Roscommon and coughed up another goal chance late on in that game, so there is still a lot to be worked on in that area.”
The step up in quality from the FBD to the league itself is something that will test Mayo and Horan is looking forward to the test. “We did well in the FBD but that’s done now and it’s on to the league. Laois is going to be another test that’s for sure, they’re a side who will be looking to have a good go at us, so we’ll have to be ready and on top of our game.”