James Horan sprang a surprise with the team he announced for Sunday’s Connacht semi-final against Roscommon this week when he opted to hand Conor O’Shea his first championship start at centre-half-forward alongside teenager Diarmuid O’Connor who will be making his second championship start after making his debut against New York at the start of last month.
Horan’s team shows three changes to the one that started in New York, with Ger Cafferkey coming back in at full back after missing that game due to injurym and replaces Kevin Keane in the full-back- line. Seamus O’Shea moves back to midfield to partner his younger brother Aidan after Jason Gibbons was ruled out of contention following a training ground injury while Alan Freeman returns to the full forward position. The selection leaves no room in the side for the likes of Mayo captain Andy Moran, Alan Dillon, Richie Feeney, or Mikie Sweeney.
Horan’s side will be facing a Roscommon team on the up, after winning the division three national league title and seeing their u21s make the All Ireland final at that grade. John Evans has made just one change to his team for Sunday, from the side that lined out against Leitrim in Hyde Park a fortnight ago, with Ian Kilbride replacing the injured David Keenan.
Kilbride, alongside his half-back colleagues Nail Daly and Ciarán Cafferkey, will be up against the new look Mayo half-foward trio of Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor O’Shea, and Jason Doherty, who will be the senior man on that line for Mayo.
In the middle of the park Aidan and Seamus O’Shea will be squaring off against Cathal Shine and Kevin Higgins. The Breaffy brothers will be in for a tough battle against the men from Clann na nGael and Western Gaels, with both Higgins and Shine excellent footballers who are can also chip in with vital scores for the primrose and blue.
The Mayo back six is as expected with the Keith Higgins back in the corner with Tom Cunniffe in the other and Ger Cafferkey holding the middle. The Roscommon full forward line will need particular watching with both Cathal Cregg and Senan Kilbride more than capable of causing serious problems if they get on the ball and they won’t be afraid of having a crack at Robert Hennelly’s goal. In the Mayo half-half back line Colm Boyle has been handed the number six shirt and it will be interesting to see if he lines up there on Sunday to hold the fort or if Donal Vaughan will slip back into that slot. Whoever does start there will have their hands full, with Roscommon’s marquee attacker Donie Shine named in the number 11 jersey. Mayo’s half back line has been one of their biggest strengths over the past number of years and the trio of Boyle, Vaughan, and Lee Keegan (who will captain the side ) the heartbeat of so much of the good that Mayo have done over the past number of years.
Alan Freeman’s return to the fold sees him back in the full forward position with Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin either side of him. If the Knockmore man waits in the inside line or moves further out the field to help out his half-fowards and midfield will be a something that could have a major effect on the game. His ability to win balls from breaks and passing ability could be key to Mayo unlocking the Roscommon defence, where Seánie McDermott and team captain Niall Carty will be minding the house alongside Neill Collins in front of Darren O’Malley. Both counties had their respective club champions make it to the provincial final last winter, but only four players who lined out that day will be on show for the start of the game on Sunday with the St Brigid’s trio of Ian Kilbride, Ronan Stack, and Senan Kilbride lining out for Roscommon and Castlebar Mitchels’ Tom Cunniffe for Mayo.
As for the game last week James Horan said he knew that his team were in for a tough contest from their hosts. “Roscommon have had a very good league campaign. They’ve got some momentum from their u21s, it didn’t go well from them in the final, but I’m sure they’ll use that momentum to drive them on. We’re all looking forward to Sunday and I’m sure John Evans in his own special way will circle the wagons and really motivate Roscommon. Their chests will be out and on that day in the their home patch and after the comprehensive beating we gave them last year, you wouldn’t expect anything less.”
The game throws in at 2pm on Sunday and it promises to be a cracker of a contest. The game will be preceded by the Connacht Intermediate Hurling final at 12pm where it will once again be a meeting of Mayo and Roscommon. Christy Phillips’ men will hope they can take home some silverware for the year after going so close to making the Christy Ring Cup final last weekend.