Mayo u21 manager Niall Heffernan got his sophomore year in charge of the inter-county team at this grade of football off to a winning start last Saturday. Mayo opened up their Hastings Cup campaign with a 3-7 to 0-5 win over the Lake County men in Tubberclair. Heffernan and his backroom team will be looking this year to reverse what has been a poor half-a-decade for Mayo at this level, not since the last of a four-in-a-row of Connacht titles put together by the current senior management team of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes in 2009 have Mayo managed to win or even compete in a Connacht final.
This year’s crop of u21s features a large number of the minor team that won the All Ireland in 2013, with half-a-dozen of them starting last Saturday. Claremorris’ Marc Mulligan started in goal with Aghamore’s David Kenny and Breaffy’s Michael Hall in the full-back line, while Balla’s Val Roughneen and Ballintubber’s Diarmuid O’Connor made up the midfield, with Breaffy’s Liam Irwin starting in the full forward line, all graduates from the 2013 All Ireland winning minor class. James and Patrick Durcan from Castlebar Mitchels have in the past shown their class at the top level of the club game and both started on Saturday, with James scoring 1-2 from the centre-half forward position.
From last year’s championship starting 15, Cian Burke and Diarmuid O’Connor remained in the starting 15 last weekend. Both Sean Regan and Michael Hall, who also saw game time in last year’s demoralising 4-10 to 1-8 capitulation to Roscommon, were also in Heffernan’s first 15 of 2015.
Mayo had the game wrapped up last weekend before the half-time break when they led 3-4 to 0-2, with the goals coming from Brian Reape, James Durcan, and Conor Finnerty.
On Saturday afternoon, Mayo will expect a tougher test when Monaghan pitch up in Ballina. The Farney County men saw off Wicklow 1-10 to 1-8 in Castleblayney last Saturday thanks in no small part to a first half goal from Fergal McGeough, while Dónal Meegan chipped in with four points. All six of Monaghan’s starting forwards managed to get their name on the score sheet over the hour and the Mayo defence will have to be on their toes on Saturday.
As for Mayo’s prospects in this year’s u21 championship, Mayo should be confident of giving the Connacht championship a real go with men such as Adam Gallagher, Pádraic Prendergast, Stephen Coen, Michael Plunkett, Eoghan Lavin, and Conor Loftus all still to come back into the panel from the one that headed to Tubberclair last weekend.