The Mayo senior football team have got 2015 off to a winning start on the double following their back-to-back wins over NUIG and Sligo IT in the last fortnight.
This Sunday, they will face their sternest test of the year so far when they face another inter-county side for the first time with the visit of Roscommon to Elverys MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon. Joint Mayo manager Noel Connelly said after their win over IT Sligo last weekend he expected this Sunday’s game to be a step up in quality for his team.
“From today [Sunday, January 11], 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.”
Connelly also said he hoped that Mayo get the win on Sunday, not just for a confidence boost or to keep up the winning run, but also so that they would get an extra game into their legs before the National Football League opener against Kerry on Sunday February 1. He said: “I'd imagine there would be two or three who haven't played so far who will be back in [for the Roscommon game]. 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 Sunday January 25 before we go to Kerry.”
Holmes and Connelly have not been afraid to give new faces their chance in the last two games, with eight players getting their senior inter-county debuts so far in the first two games. But he said they have been planning for this since they got the job in late autumn. “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 was 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.”
As for Mayo’s opponents on Sunday, they were somewhat surprisingly turned over by NUIG last weekend by a single point in Ballyforan. Roscommon were dealt a tough hand when Cathal Shine was sent off for picking up a second yellow card against the students midway through the second half. John Evans’ side will be disappointed to lose the game to the students, but having a crack at Mayo on Sunday in MacHale Park is something that will be whetting their appetites since full time last Sunday.