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Three weeks on from the being beaten by Sligo in the preliminary round of the Connacht Championship, Mayo will roll up to the midlands for the first round of the All Ireland qualifiers. The first round of the backdoor competition, while not quite uncharted territory, is one that is still not too familiar to Mayo players and supporters. In fact Mayo have only entered the qualifier system at this stage once before, also under the tutelage of O’Mahony in 2007. That year a comfortable win over Cavan in McHale Park was followed up with a humbling inside the city walls of Derry by the Oak Leaf county in the second round.
The Mayo senior and intermediate football championships kicked into life this weekend, with most sides getting to grips with the white heat of championship fare for the first time this season. The big surprise of the weekend occurred on Saturday evening when Norman O'Brien's Ballinrobe destroyed Ballaghaderreen in Charlestown. The south Mayo men pulled off a 1-11 to 0-5 win over the 2008 county champions and restricted them to a solitary point in the second half, Kenneth O'Malley also saved a penalty from Andy Moran in the game.
Galway have been warned.
Mayo will give a championship bow to four new players on Saturday evening against Sligo. Coming into the side for their first starts in championship action are Belmullet's Chris Barrett, Breaffy's Seamus O'Shea, Aghamore's Alan Freeman, and Garrymore's Enda Varley in a new look Mayo side. There are five changes from the team that lost to Cork in the National League final, with a fit again duo of Keith Higgins coming into corner back for Liam O'Malley and Ronan McGarrity replacing the injured Alan Dillion. Tom Cunniffe will replace Trevor Howley at the lynchpin centre half back position, with O'Shea moving to centre half forward.
Mayo continued their preparations ahead of their Connacht championship campaign opener against Sligo on Saturday week last Tuesday night when they played Kildare in a three period challenge behind closed doors in Longwood. It was Mayo’s fourth challenge game in 10 days, having previously beaten Cavan, Westmeath, and Dublin. Mayo went down by a point against the Lillywhites in a contest that was played over three 25 minute periods, with a side starting to look like it was taking shape for Saturday week’s game against Sligo. Tom Cunniffe continued at centre half back, flanked on either side by Peader Gardiner and Kevin McLoughlin. Kenneth O’Malley got a run out between the sticks for Mayo while Alan Dillon, who had been nursing an injury, came on to score a point. Donal Vaughn, another who picked up an injury in recent weeks, also made an appearance from the bench. Andy Moran was Mayo’s top scorer, kicking 1-4, while Conor Mortimer chipped in with five points from frees. The challenge game was the sixth in 10 days that many of the Mayo players had taken part in, including club games. They will get a break from club action ahead of the Sligo game with the club action in Mayo reverting back to the secondary league ahead of their championship clash and the start of the club senior and intermediate championship proper in a fortnight’s time around the county.
John O'Mahony named his squad for the championship on Monday, there were no major surprises in the 30 men named, with Belmullet's Billy Joe Padden the only man who wasn't involved in action so far this year coming back into contention. O'Mahony now has 33 days to get his team ready for Sligo in the Connacht championship opener.
In just over six weeks time the real deal will get under way when Mayo head to Sligo in the Connacht championship. But on Sunday all roads lead to Croke Park and a second joust with Cork inside three weeks. But this time national honours are at stake. It has been an impressive league run so far by Mayo, picking up tough away wins against Tyrone, Derry, Kerry, and Cork along with home victories over Galway and Monaghan. The only black spot on the copybook so far this term was the single point defeat to Dublin in McHale Park, but in the grand scheme of things Mayo supporters can have nothing to complain about so far this term. When the league started back on the first Sunday of February, most people’s expectations and hopes were that Mayo did enough to survive in division one. But since their blitzkrieg start against Galway, John O’Mahony’s men have barely paused for breath, as the faced down nearly all comers, with the exception of Dublin, a game they should have won, kicking 18 wides over 70 minutes.
The Mayo ladies’ senior football team will wrap up their 2010 National Football League campaign when they square off against old rivals Cork in Ballinrobe on Sunday at 3pm. The Rebelettes have been a thorn in Mayo’s side over the past number of years, beating them last year in the league final comfortably in Kiltoom, before Mayo put their season back together and made their way to the All Ireland semi-final and ran the Munster ladies to the wire, with Cork just holding them off in the end.