Time has ticked by very quickly since Mayo took their final bow in the championship for 2008 on a warm August Saturday in Croke Park, slipping out of the championship at the hands of the eventual winners, Tyrone, by a solitary point. And with Cormac Reilly’s final whistle that day attention turned to 2009 and the talk of the pubs and sidelines as to what went wrong over the past two years. Well one thing is for sure, John O’Mahony is still in the hot seat and will remain there for the next couple of years after being given a new deal in the autumn. Who will make up his side this Sunday and for the rest of the year will be talking points for the next few weeks as a side begins to take shape as the opening rounds of the National League slip by.
It all gets under way on Sunday in James Stephen’s Park, Ballina, where Derry will come to town. The Ulster men have held the upper hand over Mayo in recent meetings, knocking Mayo out of the championship in Celtic Park in 2007 and inflicting a league defeat in the same venue under lights in the opening round of last year’s competition. It will be the first time since 2005 when Cork came to town on a day when Mayo ran out three point winners where Aidan Kilcoyne top scored with four points from play and both Ciaran McDonald and Conor Mortimer hit three points each that Ballina has hosted a National League game.
Getting the winning momentum essential
Mayo have a competition record of one win from three games so far this season in the FBD league. They have also played a number of challenge games against Sligo, and last weekend against Cork in Kilmallock which finished in a draw (2-12 to 1-5 ) the Mayo goals coming from Alan Dillon and Mikey Sweeney. Sweeney started and finished all three games in the FBD league and will be a player many would expect to get his shot on Sunday. The line up in last weekend’s challenge game saw a number of third level players who were unavailable to line out for Mayo during the FBD league get a run out. O’Mahony went for the 2006 All Ireland u21 winning central defensive spine of Ger Cafferkey and Tom Cunniffe, while Tom Parsons came in at midfield and Barry Moran at full forward, and Ballinrobe’s Donal Vaughan got a run out in defence.
Most eyes will be on the starting back six that John O’Mahony selects, with Trevor Howley injured, Keith Higgins travelling, and both David Heaney and James Nallen having not yet joined up with the squad. Ronan McGarrity who missed the FBD league because he was on honeymoon is now back, he will renew his partnership with Charlestown man Tom Parsons in the middle third. With Conor Mortimer doubtful for the opening game after breaking his nose in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final win over DIT, a number of players will be looking to impress if given their chance. Mikey Sweeney is in pole position to keep hold of a spot in the corner from the FBD league, and if O’Mahony goes back to the ploy of Barry Moran at full forward, as he used in the qualifier series in 2007 (which he did in last weekends challenge game ), that leaves a lot of big name players fighting for one spot. Barry Reagan, the player of the year in last year’s Mayo club championship, started the last two FBD games at full forward, and while he hasn’t hit the heights he did for Ballaghaderreen last year yet, it is worthwhile having a look at him in a far tougher competition. Other players who will be looking to get a spot in the full forward line include Austin O’Malley, Andy Moran, and Mark Ronaldson. The competition for a spot in the inside line this year has the potential to spur the Mayo forwards into a fierce battle on the training field and on the game field when they get a chance to shine. The half forward line should include Alan Dillon and a fit again Trevor Mortimer, with Billy Joe Padden lining out there last weekend, while Aidan Kilcoyne has had a couple of runs there in the FBD league along with Andy Moran and Mickey Mullins.
Home wins a must
With Mayo having two of their first three game in the league at home this year a win against Derry is a must for John O’Mahony and his side, as they will want to avoid battling it out in a relegation battle near the end of the league season as they did last year. Mayo will follow up this weekend’s game with ties against Donegal away from home and Westmeath at home, before they meet Kerry (away ), Dublin (home ), Galway (away ), and Tyrone (home ) in a five week spell between mid March and early April. This Sunday’s game is scheduled to throw in at 2.30pm and the capacity of the ground has been set at 4,500.