The Connacht Championship will throw-in, in three weeks time when Galway cross the Atlantic to take on New York, but Mayo are now in a holding pattern for the next nine weekends, until they in all probability take on Galway in Pearse Stadium in the Connacht semi-final. By that stage the Tribesmen should have two wins under their belts as they are down to face Leitrim a fortnight after their Big Apple adventure.
The big gap between competitive games for Mayo makes their failure to make the semi-finals of the National Football League all the more disappointing for Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly as they try to get the right formula ahead of the summer.
After last Sunday’s draw with Donegal, Holmes said he was disappointed they did not make the play-offs, but overall the league was a good learning curve. “It was a good exercise. We came into the league with a view to looking at players, and obviously trying to win every game at the same time. It served its purpose from that point of view; I’m not sure exactly how many players we used in the league, but it was around 30 anyway. We’re happy from that point of view. A lot of the younger players in particular got game time in. That was the purpose of it."
Chopping and changing
There was plenty of experimentation throughout Mayo’s seven games in the league with 31 different players starting over the seven league games, with just six players starting all seven games (Kevin Keane, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty and Mark Ronaldson ). With both Aidan O’Shea and Donal Vaughan starting six of the seven games and Seamus O’Shea and Colm Boyle starting five games each. Nine players only started one game, with Evan Regan and Chris Barrett both picking up injuries in the opening round win over Kerry which ruled them out for the rest of the league run, while Michael Hall, Adam Gallagher, and Michéal Forde were among those to get just one start, as did older heads like Alan Dillon, Tom Parsons, Michael Conroy, and Brendan Harrison.
The goalkeeper position is somewhere that management duo gave all three custodians on the squad time to impress, with Robert Hennelly getting three league starts and David Clarke and Kenneth O’Malley two starts each over the seven games. With just two spots on the panel over the summer expected to be up for grabs, it was one of the most keenly contested positions this spring.
The one major concern for Mayo coming out of the league was the absence of Cillian O’Connor from their starting line-up over the last three games. The Ballintubber All Star had to depart the win over Derry early with a knee problem and he has not been able to start a game since. Getting O’Connor fit and well over the nine week break is one of the major priorities for Mayo. O’Connor’s free-taking alone was badly missed at times over the last couple of games, with both Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin missing scorable frees that could have swung the points against both Cork and Donegal and had Mayo preparing for a league-semi-final this week.
Using it as a building block
When the duo met the press last November after their appointment, they kept hammering that point that the league was all about staying in division one and finding new blood, with Connelly saying: “The league while we'd like to do well and get to the play-offs, I don't think it's the be all and end all if we don't win it. What we do need to concentrate on is being at our very best in June, July, August, and September, and whatever we have to do be in the best shape we can be. That's what we have to concentrate on and the FBD and league while we want to do well and it's important we stay in division one and we'd love to get to the semi-final stages and whatever comes after that, we'll accept it. But I think we need to unveil and bring a bit of freshness to the squad and if we get that through the FBD and national league it will be a great benefit to us going through the summer months in championship.”
With 10 games now under their belts since the start of January in both the FBD League and the National League, the work to being in their best shape for June, July, August, and September starts now.