It’s probably forgotten by a lot of people, but along with reaching the All Ireland senior final last year, Mayo also reached the junior equivalent of the competition also, where they came unstuck against a classy Kerry side in Cusack Park in Ennis.
The junior competition itself is a strange competition, with different rules for different counties and plenty not even taking part in it. Ulster don’t hold a competition at all, while Mayo can only field players who haven’t played senior club championship or with the senior inter-county team the previous year. And Sunday’s Connacht final opponents are hamstrung by not being able to field players who have played with the senior inter-county side in last year’s championship, so it’s effectively a B team for them.
Last year’s junior managment team lead by John Kelly, stepped aside at the end of the year and the batton was taken up by Crossmolina’s Michael Moyles. The former Mayo senior player is a well regarded coach in the game for his work with Sligo IT, Annaduff in Leitrim and the Sligo minor team in the past.
The role as junior manager can be frustrating one at times, but Moyles is enjoying the task he took over only six weeks ago. “It’s been a bit disappointing the way things have gone with sides pulling out and it only being us and Sligo left in the competition, but we’ve been working hard to get our team right as best we can for Sunday. We’ve had a few injuries to guys like Darragh McMeel and Anthony Mulligan from Charlestown who would have been a great benefit to us, and we’ve other lads who have got work commitments and other things getting in the way. But you’ve got to work with what you have and we’ve been trying to do things as professionally as we can.”
Moyles sees the junior side as a bridge towards the future for younger players who haven’t quite made the step up to the senior side. “We’ve been looking to build a young side and have linked in with the development academy and Noel Connelly and the lads there, so we can find the best young talent. You’ve lads like Conor Walsh from Balla and Adam Gallagher from Mayo Gaels, who are both going to develop into high quality footballers over the coming years, with us this year.” This year’s team will be captained by Barry Leonard from Lahardane and will also see the likes Paul Mannion and Michéal Forde who have all been involved with the Mayo senior squad over the past year involved in the team.”
Sunday’s game throws in at 2pm in Salthill and should be a tough encounter for Mayo as Sligo can use the game to fine tune some big players before their senior championship opener against London the following week. Moyles explained: “I’ve a few friends in Sligo who’ve been telling me a few things, we were supposed to play Sligo in the semi-final until other sides pulled out and I was informed that Stephen Gilmartin, who’s a quality senior inter-county midfielder, and James Kilcullen were lined up to play against us in that game. If that happens now with London so close on Sunday, we’ll have to see.”