Tougher test expected this time against Derry

GAA: National Football League

See you Sunday: Jason Doherty and Charlie Kielt will meet again in Sunday's league semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile 

See you Sunday: Jason Doherty and Charlie Kielt will meet again in Sunday's league semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile 

Cillian O’Connor remains the one injury doubt for Mayo from those who were available for selection last weekend for Sunday’s Allianz National Football League semi-final in Croke Park. The Ballintubber attacker, who had to leave the action after just 10 minutes in Elverys MacHale Park last Sunday, may not make it back into the starting line-up for this weekend’s game. The team is due to be announced at some stage today (Friday, April 11 ).

Bar O’Connor, James Horan should be able to pick from a full deck with the likes of Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan, Jason Gibbons, and Kevin McLoughlin all ready to return to the fold after sitting out the 2-12 to 1-7 win over Brian McIver’s side in Castlebar.

With Derry having already booked their place in the semi-final before the final round of games in the group stage of the competition, McIver made 14 changes for last Sunday’s contest from the one he played the week before and James Horan knows that he will be facing a very different outfit come 2pm on April 13.

It may not have been the best Mayo performance last weekend against a second-string Oak Leaf outfit, but the result was what was important and James Horan was able to give valuable game time to a number of players on Sunday. Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea were given starts in the middle of the park, while Mikie Sweeney continued his good run of games since coming back into the fold. At the back, Shane McHale and Kevin Keane got another start under their belts after starting a number of games earlier in the season, while Barry Moran and Richie Feeney got were back on the field in green and red for the first time since last  season.

Plenty given the chance

Horan has started four players in all seven games so far in the league, with Robbie Hennelly, Ger Cafferkey, Colm Boyle, and Keith Higgins starting all the games, while Aidan O’Shea, Lee Keegan, and Kevin McLoughlin had started every game up to last week. Jason Gibbons who replaced Tom Parsons early on in the opening game in Newbridge started the next five games on the trot before being rested last Sunday.

Overall it has been a successful league campaign for James Horan, after the setback of two defeats on the bounce away to both Kildare and Tyrone, Mayo put together four wins and a draw to book their spot in the last four. Of course there are still concerns for James Horan, such as letting Derry back into the game last Sunday when Mayo should have been out of sight, and that combined with the previous week letting a 14 man Dublin team haul them in at the end. But the objective at the start of the league was to get to where they are on Sunday and that has been achieved.

Mayo’s concession of goals is of course another concern with the ball ending up in Robert Hennelly’s net on 14 occasions over the seven games with Kerry and Derry the only teams not to raise the green flags at least twice and Westmeath and Dublin getting in for three goals each over the 70 minutes. But Mayo have played with a settled back six so far this season with Tom Cunniffe and Donal Vaughan not long back, the likes of Brendan Harrison, Shane McHale, Kevin Keane, and David Drake have all lined  at different stages alongside Cafferkey, Boyle, and Keegan in the back six.

Spots still up for grabs

Up front Horan has given plenty of opportunities to impress in the league with newcomers like Adam Gallagher and Diarmuid O’Connor getting starts along with the returning Mikie Sweeney. With  Keith Higgins, Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor, Alan Freeman, and Kevin McLoughlin five of the presumptive starters come championship time, there is a real battle going on for the other starting spot with Enda Varley, Michael Conroy, Jason Doherty, and Darren Coen all in the mix along with the previous mentioned trio battling it out for that shirt.

Sunday will present a few of those in the battle for a starting spot come championship another chance to stake their claim and show their stuff on Croke Park’s famous turf.


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