FOR the first time in over 20 years the Mayo junior football team will go into championship action without Billy Fitzpatrick in the dug-out on Friday evening.
The long-serving county junior boss was replaced last month by former Moy Davitts footballer John Kelly and, by all accounts, the new manager has cleared the decks ahead of next weekend’s Connacht championship opener against Leitrim in Aghamore.
The Mayo team which lines out is likely to be built around many of the Parke and Islandeady players who played in last year’s county Junior final, with representatives from Achill, Swinford, Ballycastle, Hollymount/Carramore and Kilmaine also set to feature.
Experience in the Mayo ranks will be provided by the likes of Achill’s Colm Cafferkey, Ollie Feeney and Hollymount/Carramore’s Dermot Costello.
Among the newcomers in line for a place in the starting XV are Ballina’s Levi Tierney, Islandeady’s Peter Collins, Achill’s Denis McNamara, Ballycastle’s Michael Forde, Hollymount/Carramore’s Clifford Connolly and Swinford duo Colin Dempsey and Jack McDonnell.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Mayo selector, Vinny Gavin, admitted that the new management team had started with a blank canvas when they took the job on.
“We’ve tried 52 lads all together, everybody that was eligible and felt they were up to it was given a chance,” explained the former Swinford star.
“We’ve had a few collective training sessions, played the likes of Corofin and Ballinrobe in challenge games, and had a really good A v B work-out on Wednesday night.
“There are still around 32 lads in contention for places and the panel will remain open-ended for as long as we’re in the championship.
“Everyone got a fair crack at making the squad. We gave lads two or three chances to make an impression and tried to pick it fairly, and on form.”
Mayo’s backroom team, which also includes Ray Connelly from Hollymount, has been keeping one eye on Leitrim’s preparations as well as getting their own house in order.
They know former Mayo senior manager Mickey Moran will have his outfit in good shape but have been pleasantly surprised by the attitude of Mayo club players to the junior cause so far.
“We got an unbelievable response from players,” said Gavin. “They were so enthusiastic about getting involved.
“This is a great chance for intermediate and junior players to play at this level. It’s also an opportunity for guys who have played for Mayo at minor and U-21 to continue their development.
“I’m sure the Mayo senior management will be keeping an eye on their progress so this is a chance for them to make an impression. Plus, it’s a great honour for any player to wear the Mayo jersey.”
With no backdoor in place for the Junior championship, Mayo must beat Leitrim to set up a semi-final date with Roscommon a week later. Their approach will be simple, admitted Vinny Gavin.
“Our plan will be to get the ball into the danger area as often, and as early, as we can. If we’re well-prepared, organised and motivated then I think we’ll give a good account of ourselves.”
Mayo v Leitrim
Friday, April 29
Aghamore at 7.30
Referee: TJ Keaveney (Sligo)