The Mayo senior hurlers get their National Hurling League campaign under way on Sunday, when they head north to take on Donegal in their opening game in Division 2B of the league.
Ballyhaunis clubman JP Coen has taken over as the manager of the hurling team this year, in an appointment that came about very quickly and late in the day after Christy Phillips stepped down just before Christmas. But when the opportunity came up Coen took it with open arms. He said: “It’s something you can never turn down when it’s your own county, for us when you’re at management in hurling, every young manager has aspirations to manage your county team. It’s a great honour, it’s something you want to do and try and achieve your best at it.”
There was no hanging around for Coen and his management team as they were straight into inter-county action with the new Connacht Hurling League throwing in on the first Saturday in January, but it was a very useful exercise. He said: “The Connacht League was a great ice breaker for us, because it allowed us to get lads back and have a few games. Even for the lads, it allowed them to get used to us and us to them, without any hard training for the first couple of weeks. It was a good idea the Connacht League, hopefully they can develop it a bit more in the next few years. The lads found themselves up in Dublin a good bit last year in the Keogh Shield, while that was a good experience it didn’t allow them to do the proper week’s training as well as travelling up and down for the games. I think they like the look of the Connacht League and I think we got a bit out of it, we managed to blood a few players in every game, everyone got at least one game or more.”
Learning as they go
Mayo continued their preparations for Sunday’s league opener with a brace of challenge games against Galway opposition over the last two weekends, which saw them reach targets set out by the management, Coen explained. “Last weekend’s game against Craughwell was a good run out for us, it was a chance to see what our 15 is shaping up to be like. We scored quite well, which is good, we got into the 20 score mark zone which were looking for all the time, you have to be hitting the 20 score zone to be winning games, we created around 35 chances in the game and converted over 20, we’re happy with the lads on the field. We’d another game with a Galway team the week before and those combined with the Connacht League games, at least we know the forwards are scoring with the way we’re trying to play.”
While Coen has inherited a fairly experienced squad, he hopes to see a number of younger players break into the senior set up and make their mark in the team, and what he has seen so far from some of them has impressed him. “I’d be very positive with the younger players coming through to the county set up from all the clubs. Great lads, the county teams needs to be set up as a place they can go and thrive and play a better brand of hurling if possible at all. It’s up to us to create that environment. I’d have great faith in our young guys coming through. We’ve two Golden lads from Tooreen, they are excellent stickmen, Eoin Collins from Ballyhaunis is there too, another great young hurler, he’s not even 21 yet and has proven to be a massive bit of stuff, and the likes of Corey Schaill from Castlebar another good young scoring hurler. There are plenty of them on the panel mixed with the likes of Kenny Feeney, Aidan Connolly, Donal O’Brien. We’ll have David Kenny, Sean Regan, and Morgan Lyons who are involved with the u21 footballers too. Obviously we’ll have Keith Higgins when we can get our hands on him at times. With him having a break from the footballers this weekend it might give us a bit of leeway having him, but we have to have a talk about it first about it. We went to him at the beginning of the year and told him we wouldn’t put any pressure on him, but any chance that he could play, we’d take him with both hands. Keith’s is a straight guy, he won’t tell you bull, if he can make it, he’ll make it and will give his best.”
Mayo will head to Donegal on Sunday as favourites to take the points but Coen is not taking anything for granted. He said: “I’d imagine we would be favourites, but looking at Donegal’s form over the last few years they’ve done well. They’ve come up a few divisions and they’ve won in Croke Park, which is huge for confidence and keeps lads together. They are on the road three years or so and they know each other inside out. They’re good hurlers, we’d like to think we would be able to come away with a result, and with the league were in it’s crucial we try and come away with the two points on Sunday.”