For the second week in a row, Mayo u21 football manager Niall Heffernan was lamenting the fact that he hasn't been able to select a number of his players for the u21 side due to commitments with the senior team. Despite the Mayo seniors not having a competitive game this weekend, Heffernan was left short of a number of players for their Hastings Cup semi-final against Roscommon, which they ultimately lost in injury time in Rathcline in Longford.
Speaking after the game Heffernan said: “We won't have another competitive game (until the Connacht championship ), but we will have a few challenge games lined up. We've a few prospects lined up for next weekend and the weekend after it. But we have plenty of football coming up, but we need to get the group together to work on the stuff that's going wrong. Games are great and they'll bring you along and show you where you're going wrong but we also need to have time with the players and get our panel together and this week we weren't allowed to have the senior players. We weren't allowed to have three of them again this weekend. It's hard, it's hard and I know Roscommon were missing their senior players as well, but that seems to be the scenario with u21football. But if you really want to take it seriously and you really want to push it on, I think we have to be given our senior players. We're seven weeks away to championship and we need to have access and we need to have the players with us, just so we can build that bit of understanding. We were throwing players into positions today and we haven't a chance to work on it.”
When asked did he request to have the senior players eligible for this grade made available to him this week Heffernan was emphatic that he did. “Yes, I'll make no secret of that, I pushed hard all week, but we didn't get them.” He went on to say that: “I think it's vital that we are given every opportunity to do as well as we possibly can do and last weekend Roscommon had their senior players available to them for the Hastings Cup game which was the day before the FBD game. This weekend they've obviously taken a different view and they didn't have them, but it would be lovely for us to have the opportunity at some stage to have all the players there. It doesn't mean we have to play them all, but we have the choice and it also gives all the other players a kind of a feeling we are all together in this, this one team that is gearing towards something.”
When asked was he surprised that he didn't have a full squad to pick from for the game, with the senior team not in competitive action this weekend he said he was, saying: “Yes, I've made that point very strongly and I'm not going to shy away from saying that again. But, having said that we had our team, we had our chances. We conceded a soft goal there that cost us the game, so we have to look at what we did on the pitch. We could have won it on the pitch, but we didn't. What ifs and who we could have had is something we can talk about for a long time, but as far as we we're concerned we had a team that was good enough to win it and we didn't.”
Speaking about the game itself he said there was plenty for him and his team to take out of it. “In fairness Roscommon had a lot of possession, they won a lot of breaking ball and when you lose Diarmuid (O'Connor ) before the game and then you lose Val (Roughneen ) it does disrupt you. But the lads showed great heart, a lot of intelligent football, some great defending. We spilt to many balls in the forward line, when the ball was going in, it was coming out to fast and we didn't win enough breaking ball in the middle third of the pitch which cost us a lot of possession. But there's a lot of positives to take out of it. It's a game we could have sneaked, I'd have taken it. It probably would have been unfair, but I'd have taken it. There's a bunch of lads there that are trying their best and to lose as many players as we did this week through various reasons and then to lose two midfielders within ten minutes of the game, it's a big, big blow. But the lads stuck at it and put in a great performance.”
The Hastings Cup itself is something that Heffernan pushed for Mayo to be involved in when he took over last year and he thinks that there's no better preparation for the championship out there. “The intensity of that game you can't replace that with challenge games. The crowd out on the pitch, the Roscommon crowd standing on the sideline when we were attacking. That toughens you up, that's what these games are all about and we could have got loads of challenge games. We'd loads of teams looking for us, but we pushed very hard last year to get back into the Hastings Cup, we got back into it and it's vital to us.”