After the breakneck start to the year with five games in 31 days, the past fortnight would have come as a welcome respite for James Horan and his management team as they had two weeks to work with their panel without having to prepare for a game at the same time.
The early mid-league break comes to an end this Sunday when Kerry arrive in Elvery’s MacHale Park on Sunday in round three of the National Football League, kicking off a run of five games in six weeks, three of them in Castlebar and the other two in Mullingar and Dublin.
As for Sunday’s contest the men from the Kingdom come into the game, much like Mayo, looking to pick up their first win of the competition having been turned over by both Dublin and Derry in their opening two games. While the defeat to the All Ireland champions was no big shock, the loss to Brian McIver’s side on their home patch turned a few heads. Eamon Fitzmaurice has had to deal with a team in transition since he took over the Kerry team at the start of last season, the challenges he has to deal with were given another bump a fortnight ago with Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper being ruled out for the year after the All Ireland club semifinal. But he has been able to welcome back the likes of Kieran O’Leary, Johnny Buckley, Dathi Casey, and others following Dr Crokes’ elimination from the club championship by Castlebar Mitchels. Kerry also have Darren O’Sullivan back in training following a double-hip operation last autumn, but his participation on Sunday would be a major surprise. Fitzmaurice has also seen veteran Mark O’Sé return to training in recent weeks to give his side much needed experience, with the absence of ‘Gooch’ and the retirement of Paul Galvin.
As for Mayo, they will still be without the services of their Castlebar Mitchels contingent for another few weeks , but the news that Seamus O’Shea and Donal Vaughan have returned to full training in recent weeks is welcome news. In other good news for Mayo, Cillian O’Connor is back doing some light training as he recovers from his shoulder operation after the All Ireland final defeat last September. Kiltane’s Mikie Sweeney is also back training with the Mayo panel after his side’s defeat in the All Ireland club intermediate final at the start of February. In their last outing against Tyrone in Omagh, Horan was forced to replace first team regulars Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, and Ger Cafferkey from his defence during the game, the two week break will have seen all three work on their recovery from these knocks. If one or more of them fails to make the grade for Sunday, Keith Higgins could be pulled back from his new forward spot to cover a defensive hole. The Ballyhaunis dual-player lined out in his more familiar corner-back position for Connacht in the Railway Cup when he became the first Connacht player to pick up a medal in both codes in the competition.
After the Tyrone game, the Mayo boss said that he estimated that around 20 players were unavailable to him due to injury and other commitments, and he used 23 different players in the opening two rounds of the league. The six Mayo players (Aidan O’Shea, Michael Conroy, Keith Higgins, Robbie Hennelly, Jason Gibbons, and Kevin McLoughlin ) who helped Connacht win their first Railway Cup title since 1969, will be hoping to bring that winning form with them on Sunday against the Kerry men. The Mayo team was due to be announced after the paper went to print either on Thursday night or early Friday morning.