Two weeks before their senior football colleagues open their championship campaign, the Mayo senior hurling team will travel to Newbridge to take on Kildare in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup tomorrow afternoon. The Lillywhites are 11/2 third favourites to follow in the footsteps of the likes of London, Carlow, and Westmeath in lifting the trophy, while Mayo are currently priced at 16/1, second last favourites according to one major bookmaker.
Not that it will bother Christy Phillips and his charges that much as they are only looking forward to this weekend’s game and no further. Both sides will go into the game on the back of poor league campaigns, albeit Kildare were operating in a higher division, plying their trade in division 2a, while Mayo were hurling in division 2b. Kildare did not win a single game in league, losing out in their five games over the spring. Their league campaign did come on the back of some early season turmoil, with manager Willie Sutherland resigning at one stage following a disagreement with the county board before coming back on board. Mayo picked up a win and a draw in their five games in the league, seeing off Armagh and drawing with Roscommon, while they lost out to Meath, London, and Down in their other three games.
The early years of this competition saw Mayo have some success and come very close to making a major breakthrough on a few occasions, but the last few years have seen them struggle in the competition. That being said, they did push last year’s eventual champions London all the way in Ruislip last year, before the exiles knocked them out in London.
Christy Phillips will be hoping that his experienced hands like Aiden Connolly, Keith Higgins, and Derek McDonnell will be able to drive his side on tomorrow. In Kenny Feeney he also has a player who put on a number of exhibitions of free taking during the league and, if given the chance tomorrow, he will be a key man in the outcome of the game. Another key man for Mayo could be the new kid on the block this year, Sean Regan from Ballina. The James Stephens youngster has made an immediate impact for Mayo this year and will pose a serious test for the Kildare rearguard. Mayo will have to do without the services of the injured Cathal Freeman who broke his collarbone in a club football game at the end of March.
While in Feeney Mayo have a form free-taker, Kildare’s Paul Divilly is equally adept from placed balls and will be a serious threat to Mayo if they give away silly frees anywhere in their own half, while Tony Murphy is another forward that the Mayo defence will have to look out for.
Mayo know that they will get nothing easy tomorrow, but they know it will be a serious test for them and their new management team of how far they have come this year and how far they have to go.