New Mayo captain Keith Higgins and Aidan O'Shea may not be back in action for Mayo until at earliest their league opener against Kerry in three weeks time. Speaking after Mayo's win over IT Sligo in James Stephens Park, Ballina on Sunday joint Mayo manager Noel Connelly when asked about some of the more experienced players yet to return to action for Mayo this year and were there any injury concerns over them said:“A few niggly ones, Keith Higgins is coming back from a hamstring injury, Michael Conroy picked up a strain on the hamstring last Sunday. A few of the others, (like ) Aidan O'Shea is just getting back in training, so maybe one or two of those guys would be only there or there abouts for Kerry, but certainly would be ready for the home game against Tyrone you'd be hoping to pull from all of those seasoned players.”
Connelly also said that he hoped that Mayo would book a place in the FBD League final on Sunday, January 25 so they could get some extra game time in their legs before the start of the league, which would also give he and Pat Holmes more time to blend in some of the newer players in the squad with the more household names. He said that: “I'd imagine there would be two or three who haven't played so far who will be back in (For the Roscommon game next week ). If we're lucky enough to get through Roscommon next weekend that also gives us another game, so we'd be hoping that we would get that extra game on January 25th before we go to Kerry.”
Measuring themselves against another inter-county team next weekend for the first time this year is something that Connelly is looking forward too and sees it as a learning experience for the newer members of the panel. “From today, you're inside three weeks before you go to Kerry, everybody needs to be thinking about that from now on and I suppose the guys who were in the panel last week, we'll probably have more of them involved next week. It will be a step up when you're playing Roscommon next week, but look for the new guys that have come in and done well, we'll maybe have to play two or three of those with the experienced guys to see how they shape up against the senior inter-county players as well. It is going to be a bigger step up, but I'm sure a few of these lads will do well against Roscommon the next day” he explained.
The step up form club football to the inter-county game is a big leap and that was the thinking behind getting the new faces in the panel in working on a strength and conditioning program last Autumn. Connelly said that: “When a fella stands out at club level, at county level the pace, the intensity, the strength, the tackling it's just 20 to 30 per cent more than that. That's why we brought these guys in during October, so they got three or four months work in them in the gym, so the lads weren't coming in raw in January and trying to compete with guys who have maybe two or three years of experience in strength and conditioning done. I think they've done well, they have more room for improvement, but hopefully we'll get the chance to get them more game time to prove themselves.”
When it comes to cutting the panel back to a championship squad, Connelly admitted it's going to be a tough task saying: “It's early days, you have big numbers and the job is going to be a lot more difficult after the first league game or two, trying to cut some of these guys because to be fair to them the new guys they have done well and it's going to be a tough task to let some of them go, but that's the way it has to be.