Castlebar Mitchels man Richie Feeney has been handed the number 11 shirt for Sunday’s Connacht Senior Football Championship semi-final against Roscommon in McHale Park. The versatile Feeney will replace the injured Cillian O’Connor who dislocated his shoulder in a club championship match for Ballintubber against Claremorris, the week after Mayo’s opening round victory over Galway in Salthill.
Filling the void left by O’Connor was the only change that was expected in the line up in the build up to the game, with some speculation that Andy Moran could get the start after he started in the corner in a challenge game against Cavan in Ballina, a game where Feeney himself started at centre-half forward. However Horan did make two changes for Mayo’s opening game against Galway from the team he had announced in the days before the game, with Alan Dillon and Tom Cunniffe coming into the starting 15 before throw in. Feeney has played in all of Mayo’s nine competitive games this year in league and championship, starting the first four league games, three of them at centre-half forward and the other at wing forward. He has been used as a sub in the five other games, coming on in the forward division. The Castlebar Mitchels man was also the vital cog in his side’s win in the first round of the senior football championship over Davitts at the end of May, where he steadied the ship against a fierce onslaught from the south Mayo men in the second half.
Rossies also without key man
As for Mayo’s opponents on Sunday they also named their team during the week. John Evans was unable to select his star man Donie Shine who was not fit in the starting 15 because of a hamstring injury. Also not making the starting 15 for Sunday was the trio of Ian Kilbride, Darragh Donnelly, and Donal Keane. Evans has given starts to two championship debutants, Darren O’Malley in goal and Conor Daly in the half back line. Roscommon finished in fourth place in division three of the National Football League this year, behind Monaghan, Meath, and Fermanagh, picking up wins over Sligo, Antrim, Monaghan, and Cavan, along with drawing with Wicklow. Roscommon are coming into the game not having had a competitive game since April 7.
Roscommon will still have a potent and dangerous attack for the Mayo rearguard to keep their eyes on, with Cathal Cregg, Seanan Kilbride, Karol Mannion, and David O’Gara all included in their attack. In midfield the experienced duo of Kevin Higgins and Michael Finneran will be going toe to toe with the O’Shea brothers. In defence Evans will be looking for big performances from Niall Carty and Niall Daly at full-back and centre-half back, with Seanie McDermott and Neil Collins hard working corner backs.
Mayo midfielder Aidan O’Shea has nothing but respect for Roscommon and their manager John Evans whom he knows well. “They had a disappointing year last year under Des Newtown, but I’m sure that John Evans will have them flying. He’s a clubman of my father’s, I know him personally and he’s a very good trainer.” Speaking of what he expects Evans to have brought to Roscommon he said, “John’s an up and at it character, the results he got in Tipperary brought them on. He brought in Meath as well, now he’s in Roscommon, he doesn’t drive all the way from Kerry for nothing. He’s there to be successful and I’m sure he’ll have them going very well. He’s got good players to deal with.”
O’Shea has had plenty of dealings with Roscommon in the past in the under-age grades and is expecting nothing easy. “Look, I’ve played under-age football and Roscommon have been my main threat at under-age football, they beat me twice as an u21 player and we beat them in a minor final as well. I’m not under any illusions, Galway are probably a traditional rival but Roscommon have been my toughest opponents in Connacht. They’ve done huge work at underage level and they are seeing the fruits of that at minor and u21 level.”
Mayo are taking it one game at a time
Mayo have nine players who started in the Connacht final two years ago in the starting 15 for Sunday, showing how much James Horan has changed the team around since then. Keith Higgins, Tom Cunniffe, Donal Vaughan, and Richie Feeney all started in defence that day. The O’Shea brothers manned the middle third as they will again on Sunday, with Alan Dillon, Kevin McLoughlin, and Alan Freeman all starting in the forward division again on Sunday.
Aidan O’Shea has had a clear run from injury this year and capped off his time in college with a Sigerson Cup medal with DIT, where he put in a number of eye catching displays in the middle of the park. Being fully fit this year has been a huge bonus he said. “Even mentally it’s a massive thing going into games, when you’ve all the work done and the preparation done. This year I haven’t missed a session really and you can see the fruits of it so far, and I hope it’s a good year.” He also admitted that being an intercounty footballer and travelling the length of the country isn’t easy and he’s glad to be back home, having just started a new job in Westport. “I’m there till Christmas, it’s nice to be home and have a nice routine to my life. It’s difficult for any intercounty footballer in Dublin having to travel up and back. The closer you are to home the easier it is to prepare as an intercounty footballer and I’m just delighted to be home and I plan to be there for the foreseeable future.”
While his manager warned Mayo supporters to curb any loose talk of All Ireland quarter-finals the Breaffy man said that he and the rest of the team are only looking at one game at a time. “Mayo supporters are like that. Before the Galway game they didn’t think we were going to win and now because it’s Roscommon they think we will. There’s loose talk, we can’t be focused on what’s going on the outside. Since the Galway game we’ve been very focused on this game. We’re trying to win three back to back Connacht titles for the first time in a long time, we’ve been very focused from the start of the year and we wanted to beat Galway, and we knew we would be playing Roscommon and it’s going to be a difficult game. It’s not been hard for the players to come down to earth and it will always be a difficult Connacht championship and it’s going to prove that if we win it.” Throw in on Sunday is at 4pm in Elverys McHale Park, Castlebar.