All eyes on Sunday will be on a new look Mayo front six as the Connacht Championship throws in for another exciting instalment. Injuries have forced the hand of James Horan into lining out without what most people would say are four of his chosen starting forwards. While it’s good news that Alan Dillon and Andy Moran have made sufficient progress to take their places on the bench for Sunday, how match fit they are and what kind of impact they will be able to have after prolonged lay-offs is yet to be seen. The loss of Jason Doherty in recent times has added even more to Mayo’s problems up front along with loss of Michael Conroy a few weeks ago for a good portion of the early summer at least. Stepping into fill the gaps on Sunday are two championship debutants, Cathal Carolan and Darren Coen. While Carolan has got some inter-county miles under his belt in this year’s league campaign from the first Dublin game on, the only game time that Coen has seen in the senior side in the league this term has been a brief blood sub appearance on Leeside. Joining Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin and the pair of debutants in attack is the experienced duo of Alan Freeman and Enda Varley.
Barry Moran also hasn’t been able to make it back to fitness and will sit out the encounter, with Seamus O’Shea pairing up with his brother Aidan in the middle of the park. At the back Chris Barrett who started seven of Mayo’s eight games in the league also misses out through injury with Kevin Keane coming back into the side in the number two jersey, to join Ger Cafferkey and Keith Higgins in the full back line, while the solid unit of Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan and Colm Boyle will man the half back line.
Horan focused on task at hand
Speaking ahead of the game last week to the Mayo Advertiser, Horan said that he expects Galway hit Mayo from the off. “I’m sure they’re planning an ambush in Salthill. When they’re given time and space they can play football that’s for sure. We’ll be looking at doing what we can and playing our own game.”
The injuries have been mounting up for Mayo over the past few months, but it’s something that you have deal with and move on, according to the Ballintubber club man. “Yah, it’s disappointing that we lost eight or nine players in two rounds of the club league. But that’s what happens, there are other mangers in the same situations and you just get on with what you can get on with.”
Horan’s been happy with the way the team has adapted to injuries and the players that have come in have taken their chances when given to them during the league. “You always like to bring on new players, and we played without Cillian for quite a few games as well. So that was three of our stronger forwards from last year (Andy and Alan ) we were without. We managed it and we adapted and we ended up in a league semi-final as a result. Some of those guys are starting to get very close to game time as well, so things are pointing the right way.”
The league itself gave Mayo plenty to work on despite making it to the semi-finals according to the former two time All Star. “We did a steady league. It wasn’t ideal, but we got a lot out of it. We knew that we weren’t far away. We tried a few different things in our preparation and didn’t get some of the results that would have made it a easier league for us. But overall we took a lot from it and we worked on the gaps we identified from that over the last couple of weeks.”
The bookmakers have Mayo as short priced favourites going into Sunday’s game, while traditionalists will say that only a kick of a ball will be between the sides at the end of the day, which is something Horan isn’t quite buying into which he said at the launch of the Connacht Championship last week. “I’m not quite as convinced that form goes out the window and it’s always a a kick of a ball. It’s what you make of it on the day and we’ll be preparing well and looking to do our stuff on May 19.” He later expanded on this reasoning, when talking about the difference in playing in division one and two in the league. “ If you follow logic you have to say, playing in division one is an advantage. There’s strong teams in there and in any of the games we played this year we’re very close. In division two a lot of the games, there was more of a swing in some of those games, they might not have been as competitive. That’s what you’ll have to think will be an advantage to a division one team. We had a lot of games that were down to the wire. They were always the type of games that you know develop the character of a team and we’ll take a lot from that.”
News from the neighbours
Meanwhile south of the border, Galway are also having to deal with a couple of injuries, most notably captain Finan Hanley who has failed to fully recover from shoulder injury. The Salthill-Knocknacara man injured his shoulder in training and despite getting some game time in a recent challenge against Clare, Alan Mulholland has decided not to risk his captain in Sunday’s game. Colin Forde who captainted and played full back for Mulholland in Galways’s All Ireland u21 win in 2011 will move over to the full back spot for the game. Galway have only one championship debutant with Manus Breathnah their only player making his championship bow. Galway’s full-foward line will have been giving Mayo’s defence and management plenty of food for thought over the last few weeks and with Michael Meehan and Sean Armstrong making up two thirds of that line along with Claregalway’s Danny Cummins. Despite Galway claiming their second All Ireland u21 title in three years recently, Mulholland has resisted the choice of drafting in a wave of those players. Only two of that side will start on Sunday, midfielder Fiontan O’Curraion at midfield and wing forward Thomas Flynn, both men were also members of the 2011 u21 All Ireland winning team.
Throw in for Sunday’s game is at 4pm and it’s something that Mayo have been waiting for since the draw was made according Mayo’s injured captain, Andy Moran who’ll be chomping at the bit to get into the action at some stage. “It’s a great battle, it’s been the centrepiece of our year to focus on May 19 and we probably sacrificed a league game here or there in terms of preparation, in terms of strength and conditioning and in terms of running, so we’re focused on it we can’t wait for it, to be honest.”