On a biting cold Saturday afternoon in early January afternoon, the Mayo GAA inter-county season threw in for 2014 in the neatly appointed Emmet Park in Killoe in Longford in the Hastings Cup. And to almost match the year that it is, Niall Heffernan's Mayo u21s hit 2-14 over the course of the hour. This was Heffernan's and his teams first competitive outing since he took over the job last Autumn and he'll have gone home happy after his side were able to answer all the questions that Jack Sheedy's midlanders asked off them. But there was plenty of rustiness on show that will be sanded off between now and by the time championship comes around in the Spring.
One name who even at this early stage of the year is sure to be in the starting line-up come that game against Roscommon is Mayo Gaels man Adam Gallagher. The DCU student captained the side and led by example throughout kicking 1-5 over the hour and showing the positional and running awareness that had marked him out as an excellent prospect as a minor a couple of years ago. Last years All Ireland winning minor captain Stephen Coen anchored the defence at centre-half-back, while his fellow minor graduate from last year Diarmuid O'Connor put in a very solid shift at midfield. Ballina Stephenites Evan Regan played he first half of the game at full forward and bagged himself 1-1 before being withdrawn at the break, while his club-mate and senior inter-county hurler Sean Regan lined out at wing back, an unusual position for the north Mayo man. But he acquited himself very well there, driving forward in support of the attack very often over the hour.
But it wasn't all easy for Mayo against a side who had nine of their starting 15 back in situ from last years team who went all the way to the Leinster final only to come up short against Kildare in the eastern decider. Adam Gallagher opened the scoring less than a minute in when he tapped over a close range free after Cian Burke was upended as he ran in towards goal. The midlanders kicked the next two scores through the very dangerous pair of Robbie Smith and James McGivney. Both men gave the Mayo corner-backs a torrid time in the first half and both defenders were replaced before the beginning of the second half. Mayo struck back with purpose and by the seventh minute had put themselves into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead, thanks to a brace of points from Gallagher and one from Ronan Neary. But the early advantage swing back in favour of the home-side as they began to get a grip of the game around the middle of the park and kept feeding the ball into McGivney and Smith. The latter leveled the game up by the 12 minute mark thanks to a fine point from play and another from a free and midfielder Andrew Dalton put the home-side into the lead 13 minutes in and that was quickly followed by another Smith score to push the gap out to two. James Shaughnessy struck back for Mayo, when he finished off a move started by a powerful driving run by Sean Regan.
However the next two minutes were about to shape the outcome of this game. Adam Gallagher was put through clear on goal, rather than shoot himself he opted to play in James Shaughnessy on his shoulder. The Claremorris attacker was illegally impeded and Mayo were awarded a spot kick which Gallagher cooly dispatched. From the resulting kick-out Mayo won the ball back and then a free close in, which Evan Regan dispatched with his left boot. The Ballina man was on hand less than a minute later when Anthony Jordan dropped in a long ball between the goalkeeper and full-back line, Regan tracked the dropping ball and was on hand to flick it to the back of the net and put Mayo six points clear only a few short minutes after they were trailing by two. Gallagher added on another Mayo before the break with Smith responding with two for the home side to leave Mayo leading by 2-7 to 0-8 at the break.
The early stages of the second half saw Longford dominate possession, but kick wide after wide and with it, their chances of catching Mayo. Their hopes took a massive body blow nine minutes into the half, when their main man Robbie Smith was shown the black card and to the line for dissent to the referee after he had what looked like a legitimate claim for a free turned down close into the Mayo goal. Mayo were always comfortable and run of four points on the bounce between the 16th and 20th minute had them nine points clear at one stage. Longford did pull the gap back to eight before the end, but the outcome of this game had been decided long before that. It was a very useful exercise for Niall Heffernan and his management team. The Mayo u21s will be in action again next Saturday when they take on Cavan in round two of the Hastings Cup at home.
Longford: G Higgins; B Cullen, A Farrell, C Farrelly; C Hugh, S McLoughlin, S Clarke; A Dalton (0-1 ), F Sheridan; R Connor, R McInerney, L Connaughton; R Smith (0-7 2f ), B McKeon, J McGivney (0-3,2f ). Subs: M Gorman for R Connor (HT ), C Lynn for R Simth (39- black card ), L Sullivan (0-1 ) for B McKeon (58 ), C Shields for C Farrelly (58 )
Mayo: M Moylette; G McLoughlin, L Kitterick, A Butler; S Reagan, S Coen (0-1 ), C Burke; D O'Connor, G O'Donnell; A Jordan (0-2 ), A Gallagher (1-5, 1p,2f ), R Neary (0-2 ); J Shaughnessy (0-1 ), E Regan (1-1, 1f ), K Gibbons. Subs: K Lynch for G McLoughlin (25 ), E Collins for Butler (HT ), D Miller for E Regan (HT ) B Heneghan (0-2 ) for J Shaughnessy (HT ), E Jordan for D O'Connor (56 )