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Hurlers hit the league road again

Mayo’s Morley aiming to hit the ground running

David Jennings

REVENGE is a dish best served in the championship but Shane Morley believes it will be quite tasty at Athleague on Sunday should Mayo reverse the result of last year’s Division 3B final loss to Roscommon.
Murt Connolly’s charges commence their league campaign with a repeat of last year’s decider and the Tooreen defender is confident that his side will be able to bank maximum points.
“It would be great to get revenge on Roscommon and I think we will,” the 26 years-old told The Mayo News. “We never showed up in the league final and they beat us by a point. It was bitterly disappointing as we were favourites going into that game but we didn’t play half as well as we can.”
The following week Mayo were on the receiving end of another minimum-margin loss, this time to Wicklow in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup.
In hindsight, Shane Morley felt that his side paid the price for competing in the shallow waters of Division 3B in the league.
“We were winning some of our games by cricket scores and never really had any sort of a match until we got to the final of the league. When you are winning ways easily, you never learn much and I think that cost us when it came to the championship.”
But there can be no such excuses this year. Promotion to Division 2B has ensured that Mayo will be mixing it with the likes of Kildare, Armagh, London and Meath, all of whom hold aspirations for outright glory.
“It’s a very competitive division,” Morley admitted. “The likes of Armagh and Meath will be tough to beat and London seem to have got plenty of new players so they could be a real force this year, both in the league and the championship.
“We have to travel over there later in the league and that game will be a good indication of where we stand.”
Mayo will be without Brian Higgins, Niall Murphy and Eoin Madigan for the season but, while acknowledging that the loss of that trio is a set-back, the experienced defender is expecting a couple of rookies to make a significant impact this term.
“We have a number of talented hurlers coming through,” explained Morley, who is the only player left on the Tooreen panel aged between 23 and 30 due to emigration.
“Stephen Hoban and Brian Hunt from Ballyhaunis are both excellent hurlers who should so well this year. Kenny Feeney has been doing well with GMIT so he should be well able to make the breakthrough and one player that I think has serious potential is Cathal Freeman.
“He’s a quality player but just between one thing and another he hasn’t been able to show it for Mayo so far. I think that will change this year.”
Dual star Keith Higgins has been handed the captain’s armband by the Mayo manager.
“Keith is a brilliant hurler and he loves playing hurling,” said Morley, a qualified engineer who is currently working in Delaney’s Hardware store in Ballyhaunis.
“He has a lot of commitments and it’s hard to keep everyone happy but he does a pretty good job at it. Even when he’s training with the footballers, he does one night with us and he always keeps his touch in. He is hugely committed and I’m sure he will be a fine captain.”
Higgins’ participation may be the main ingredient in Mayo’s push for league honours and Shane Morley, who was recently selected on the Christy Ring ‘Team of the Year’, believes his side have what it takes to finish the campaign at the summit of the table.
“It’s certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that we can gain promotion. It is a big step up from last year but we have the potential to beat the teams we are playing and it’s just a case of going out and playing to the best of our ability.”

NHL Division 2B
Roscommon v Mayo

Sunday, February 26
Athleague at 2.30pm