IT’S a quiz question to set the mind racing — name the oldest Mayo man to make his championship debut for the county?
Six Mayo players will make their senior inter-county championship debuts in Ruislip on Sunday when the ball is thrown-in at the start of Mayo’s 2011 campaign.
Another four substitutes may join them in making their championship bow, but for three of the starters, their arrival to this level is very late by contemporary standards.
Richie Feeney turns 28 in July, his brother Alan will be 26 the same month, and James Kilcullen is 27 this year.
With the vast majority of this Mayo panel having progressed directly from the Under 21 or minor ranks, this trio stand alone in terms of their vintage. Only Peadar Gardiner, who was 25 when he first figured in championship against New York in 2004, comes close.
Richie Feeney is, of course, the oldest of Sunday’s debutants. However, he isn’t the oldest Mayo player ever to make his senior championship debut.
The Mayo News believes that this trip to the English capital five years ago saw the oldest debutant of the last 30 years make his appearance when Ballina’s John Healy lined out at the hearty age of 29.
“I’m not sure whether I should be proud of that or not,” laughed the Stephenites goalkeeper when contacted by this reporter.
“I guess you could say I’m an argument for persisting at it but it certainly took me long enough!”
Although far from the norm, Mayo players in their mid to late twenties making their championship debuts is not just confined to Messrs Feeneys, Kilcullen and Healy.
As recently as 2008, Claremorris’ Mickey Mullins made his first Mayo start off the bench in a win over Sligo as a 26-year-old.
The previous year, Ballina’s Enda Devenney lined out at wing-back in Mayo’s ill-fated outing against Galway in Pearse Stadium. He was 25-years-old at the time.
Ballaghaderreen’s Barry Regan came on as a sub’ in 2006 for Mayo’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Laois as a 24-year old.
Meanwhile, a coterie of Crossmolina players made a late dash to inter-county championship by virtue of their club form around the turn of the millennium, whereas most players graduated to senior inter-county from the underage ranks.
We’ve already mentioned Peadar Gardiner but three of his club-mates were late to the party too. Liam Moffatt, now a member of Mayo’s medical team, was 26 when he lined out against Sligo in 2003; Michael Moyles was 24 when he made his debut against Sligo in 2001, and Tom Nallen was 26 when he played in that same game.
Richie Feeney is three months shy of his 28th birthday but two Mayo players were already 28 when they got their first start in the last decade, within one month of each other.
Charlestown legend David ‘Ginger’ Tiernan ran out in a senior championship game for the first time against Galway on June 2. Defeat that day sent Mayo into the Qualifiers where Hollymount’s Shane Trench made his debut against Roscommon on June 23.
Pat Fallon also got his ‘first cap’ at the ripe old age of 27 against Sligo in 2003.
Castlebar Mitchels’ Shane Fitzmaurice was 26 when he made his debut in 2002 and Ballyhaunis’ Fergal Kelly was 26 when he debuted against Sligo in 2003.
Later in ‘03, former Dublin player Enda Sheehy was 27 when he lined out for his one and only game for Mayo, the Qualifier defeat to Fermanagh in Markievicz Park.
Sheehy had, of course, already played championship for Dublin so his status comes with a qualification as does the fact that he wasn’t reared in Mayo.
So too does that of two-time All-Ireland winner with Offaly, Seçn Lowry, who was 33 when he made his Mayo championship debut against Leitrim in 1985.
Galway native Tomçs Tierney was the far side of 30 as well when he made his Mayo debut in 1991.
While a complete search through records for the oldest Mayo player to debut for his county was logistically impossible, there appears to be one man who can comfortably claim to be the oldest to make his championship debut in the green and red.
Billy Fitzpatrick famously played a few League games with Mayo in 1965 before being jettisoned from the county scene for 11 years. When he was recalled in 1976 he finally made his championship debut at the grand old age of 32 when Mayo defeated Leitrim after a replay. Fitzpatrick had been regularly the top scorer in the Mayo Senior club championship in the interim but was never given the call to the county team.
“I think they lost my number in those years,” Fitzpatrick joked wistfully.
Coming close to him for a late call-up was one of Mayo’s All-Ireland winning greats.
Henry Dixon had a similar falling-out with the powers-that-be in the county when he clashed with a cleric involved in the county board in the early 1940s.
It meant that he was 30 when he made his championship debut at centre-half forward in 1947, but four years later he would have two All-Ireland medals to his name.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, if Ballintubber’s Cillian O’Connor comes on during Sunday’s game, he’ll join the likes of Ciaran McDonald, Brian Maloney, Ger Brady (Ballina), Pearse Hanley and Aidan O’Shea to have made their debuts in their first year out of minor. Hanley remains the youngest of those players to make the senior grade, being five months shy of his 19th birthday when he played against Cavan in the 2007 Qualifiers.
IF you know of any late comers to championship football for Mayo that we’ve missed, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.
OLDEST SWINGERS IN MAYO
1. Billy Fitzpatrick (32)
Debut v Leitrim, May 23, 1976
2. Henry Dixon (30)
Debut v Roscommon, May 25, 1947
3. John Healy (29)
Debut v London, May 28, 2006
4. David ‘Ginger’ Tiernan (28)
Debut v Galway, June 2, 2002
5. Shane Trench (28)
Debut v Roscommon, June 23, 2002
6. Richie Feeney (27)
Debut v London, May 29, 2011