The Mayo senior team travel to London tomorrow from Ireland West Airport for the start of their 2016 championship and kickstart their bid for an unprecedented six Nestor cups in a row. The 100/1 on Connacht champions will have little or no trouble in disposing of the exiles no matter what way we try to butter it up.
Mayo have a slight injury dilemma but will still be far too well prepared for London, no matter what team they line out. There is of course a strong Mayo link with this year’s London team, and I’m sure it will be unusual for former club mates squaring up to each other in the white heat of the Connacht Championship. The last time the two teams met in Ruislip was a very nervous affair. It was James Horan’s first championship match in charge when his team needed extra time to see off London. Had Mayo lost that day, which they most certainly could have, it would probably have been the beginning of the end for Horan as Mayo manager, instead the football gods smiled on him and his team got the job done in extra time. I have no doubt Horan will cite that day as the most important of his managerial career, he is now one of the most respected managers in the game, we all need a break or a slice of luck I suppose.
Mayo of course have met London since in that unique Connacht final in 2013 when they ran out easy winners on a scoreline of 5-11 to 0-10. I expect Sunday to be more of the same. A fill your boots type of day for any forward. The scare most of this current crop got back in 2011, along with Roscommon almost capsizing in New York last month, should be enough to motivate Mayo to take the game seriously, although it is quite difficult for the players with the carnival atmosphere that playing a big game overseas brings. You are dealing with a top four team in Ireland against a team that finished bottom of division four of the national league, winning just one out of a possible seven games against teams with little or no championship expectations while conceding a cumulative total of 124 points in the process. The one win they had was a one point win against Waterford in round six of the league back in March. For me the other single most important motivational factor for the players has to be the possession law. The guy who gets the jersey on Sunday is basically in control of his own destiny for the rest of the 2016 championship. It’s very difficult to lose your place on a team if you have played well in your previous championship match, injury aside of course. Whatever team Stephen Rochford names will probably not be the team that takes the field as quite a few players have late fitness tests. The bookmakers have set the handicap betting at -15, I expect Mayo to surpass that and win by 16 or more. Cillian O’Connor is always a good bet for first goal scorer, I feel he will want to prove a point for his first game as captain.
McLoughlin’s men do the job
Tremendous credit must be given to Sean McLoughlin’s Mayo junior team who put back to back Connacht titles together for the first time since 2001-02. It was nice to see the juniors getting their day in the sun as they played Galway in the curtain raiser for the Leitrim and Roscommon senior game in Carrick-on-Shannon. The first half was strewn with handling errors but the game really came to life when Ronan Malee scored a wonderful goal after some great build up play by team captain Andrew Farrell and Darren Coen. Coen’s accuracy from placed balls was top drawer but for me the pocket rocket from Belmullet, Eoin O’Donohue, was Mayo’s outstanding performer, he certainly has to be on Stephen Rochford’s radar. He handsomely won his individual battles with whatever Galway player he was assigned to.
Roscommon get their act together
Roscommon as expected made light work of Leitrim in Carrick on Shannon last Sunday. You always felt Leitrim would get the backlash for what happened in New York. There were some fine scores from the Rossies who played with real desire and pace up front where Fintan Cregg was the shining light on the half forward line. Leitrim’s indiscipline meaning they had to finish the game with 12 players, however Roscommon centre back Sean Purcell certainly rode his luck after nearly taking the head off Emlyn Mulligan with a very aggressive challenge only to receive a yellow card for his troubles, when a black or even red would have been the correct call. Roscommon look like they have got their act together to at least get to a Connacht final.