New year and a new challenge for new u21 boss

As the first few days of the new year roll into life, the Mayo GAA season gets under way on Saturday with the Mayo u21s taking part in the Hastings Cup for the first time in a number of years. Mayo will be one of 12 teams taking part in the warm up competition for the 2014 u21 championship which will get under way in early spring. Mayo have been drawn in a group with Offaly, Longford, and Cavan, and will open their season on Saturday against Longford in Newtown Forbes at 1pm.

Taking charge of the Mayo u21s this year is Niall Heffernan who takes over from Tony Duffy. Heffernan will be joined on the sideline by Dermot Costello and Tommy O’Boyle, with former Mayo stars Kevin O’Neill and Peter Burke also on board as part of the backroom team.

Heffernan is looking forward to the challenge and raring to go for Sunday as he told the Mayo Advertiser this week. “It’s great, a nervous and exciting time for all of us involved in the management team and we can’t wait for it to get going.”

The Hastings Cup is a competition that Mayo have not been in for a number of years and he sees their re-entry to it as a major boost to his side’s chances of pushing on in this year’s championship “We worked hard to get back into the Hastings Cup, it’s something I see as being very important to our preparation. You can play any amount of challenge games, but there’ll be a bit more bite to these which is only good for us. Competition football, no matter what the competition is, can only bring you on.”

This time of year sees u21 inter-county players getting stretched across a number of causes and competitions, but it will be the same for all the sides in this competition he explains. “Of course we’ll have lads who are going to be involved with the senior team and colleges in the FBD and in O’Byrne Cup and whatnot. But everyone else will be in the same boat.”

Mayo have failed to make the strides expected at this grade for the past few years and Heffernan hopes that by taking part in this competition it will give him and his management team a good chance to have a proper look at all the players they want to run their eye over in competitive action. “It’ll give us a very good opportunity to have a proper look at everyone and give everyone some good game time to show if they have what we want or not. It’s one of those competitions that should be played at a high intensity.”

As for the number of players they will be looking at, Mayo have a deep panel at the moment but that will be scaled back come the end of the competition at the end of the month he said. “We’ve an extended panel of 40 at the minute that we’ll have to whittle down to 30 come the end of January. But we’ve looked at over 120 players since I got the job and have looked at everyone we could to see who is there. We had a few trial games in conjunction with the development academy and that gave a lot of good exposure for guys to show up. The lads we’ve brought into the panel have been nothing but professional since. Everything they’ve been asked to do, they have done and shown the honesty you want from a player.”

Mayo will get their Connacht u21 championship campaign under way in March when they take on Roscommon in the preliminary round before the winners face Sligo away in the competition’s semi-final.

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