The unfamiliar surrounds of Rathcline GAA Club in Cloneboney, Lanesborough, is the next stop of the road for Niall Heffernan’s Mayo u21s this Saturday in the semi-final of the Hastings Cup. Standing in the way of Mayo and a place in the final against either Galway or Leitrim is another Connacht side in the shape of Roscommon.
Heffernan’s side have so far overcome the challenge of Westmeath, Monaghan, and most recently Wicklow in the group stages of the competition to book their place in the last four of the competition against a fancied Roscommon side. The Connacht championship itself is excepted to be a very tough contest this year with all four of the Hastings Cup semi-finalists having serious designs on winning the provincial title.
Mayo’s opponents on Saturday came out of a group that included Kerry, Cavan, and Meath. Roscommon drew their first game against Kerry before going on to see off the challenge of Meath in emphatic style and then beating Cavan last weekend.
Speaking after their narrow win over Wicklow in Ballina last Saturday afternoon, Heffernan admitted that his side had a lot to work on ahead of the semi-final saying: “We didn’t probably get ourselves set up right on the pitch, we had our system of play, but I think today it didn’t just work as well [as it did before]. But there was a lot of positives to take out of it, our work rate was good, defensively we were solid, but we turned over far too much ball. We turned over a lot of ball in the first half. We turned over 15 in their half in the first half out of 18, it’s not good enough. Second half we cut that right down, we’d five turnovers. You can get hung up about stats but it showed, I think that once we got ourselves using the ball faster, instead of carrying, carrying, and carrying. We carried the ball into far too many tackles, that’s what were good at I think [moving the ball fast]. Possibly some of the players might have thought this game was easier than it was, not that we took Wicklow in anyways lightly. I think they thought we’d the job done and we very nearly got caught. But we dug it out in the end. Again we didn’t concede any goals which was a positive. We know that we missed a lot of chances and it put us under more pressure.”
But the Mayo manager who is in his second year in charge of this grade was happy to see his charges figure things out for themselves on the field. “We have a lot of good lads, who’ve great personalities, great heart, work-rate, and are intelligent footballers. They figured out a lot of the stuff themselves that was going wrong and they tried to fix it and we try to encourage that. Because at the end of the day, they are the ones that go out on the pitch and they have to play what’s in front of them. Really to me, it was the simple things we did wrong in the first half, we turned over ball, there was bad hand passing, bad foot passing, yet we saw superb examples of each [in the second half]. Like Val Roughneen, his foot passing was superb, his work-rate too, we’ve a lot of players who do that who work really hard to try and fix what needs to be fixed,” he added.
Heffernan will expect to have a full deck to play from, bar those who are injured, with the Mayo senior team no longer involved in the FBD League after getting knocked out last week. Diarmuid O’Connor, Stephen Coen, Patrick Durcan, Adam Gallagher, Morgan Lyons, and others who have also been lining out with the senior squad should be on hand for what promises to be an exciting encounter in the midlands. The game throws in at 2pm.