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Connelly: Let’s make a statement

Sport
Noel Connelly

Let’s start as we mean to go on


Noel Connelly

BREAKING my ankle in a junior club championship game for Hollymount/Carramore against Ballycroy last Sunday was hardly the ideal preparation for the start of Mayo’s championship adventure but, if experience has taught me anything over the years, it’s that these things happen.
It won’t keep me away from McHale Park next weekend but it may make those famous steps in the stand a little bit more challenging.
More importantly though, at long last the waiting is almost over. Two months after our League Final defeat to Cork, Mayo finally get a taste of Championship 2012. And not a minute too soon.
So, what can we expect to happen when Leitrim come to town?
First off, it doesn’t matter how often a manager drills it into his troops, complacency is a lethal bug that is hard to cure. Mayo’s biggest battle on Sunday is a mental one. They must not take Leitrim for granted but that is easier said than done.
Since Leitrim sidestepped the banana skin in London, I’ve no doubt that James Horan will have been trying to portray them as a powerful side that have more than enough ability to cause an upset.
The problem is that James himself, deep down, probably doesn’t believe it and neither do the players, so it can be hard to get motivated for a game where you’re 1/50 with some bookmakers.
But last year’s trip to London is ample evidence of what can happen if you aren’t in the right frame of mind for the championship.
Mayo got a mighty scare in Ruislip and that game helped them to blow away the cobwebs.
Leitrim already have a game under their belts while Mayo, with the exception of a run-out against Westmeath and Monaghan, haven’t been seen since April 29.
That eight-week break has been more of a hindrance than a help, and I expect Leitrim to explode from the traps.
They have some good footballers and Ray Cox and Emlyn Mulligan will do damage on the scoreboard if they are supplied with decent service.
Let’s not forget that they beat Sligo last year and certainly aren’t the whipping boys of Connacht.
They will probably build up an early lead and take advantage of Mayo’s edginess. However, I fully expect Mayo to get a grip on the game by the end of the first half and go on to win comfortably. Their class should shine through.
Putting down some markers
DUBLIN have done it. Cork have certainly done it. Now it’s time for Mayo to make a major statement of intent. We may have been burrowing away behind the scenes on the training ground while some of the top teams have been racking up landslide victories, but on Sunday we have the opportunity to show what we are made of.
The main ingredient on Sunday has to be high intensity.
We need to approach the game as a normal championship game and defend and attack in packs. I expect Leitrim to start well but we can’t allow them to build up too big of a lead. When the tide goes out, it’s very hard to bring it back in.
Mayo teams of the past have been criticised for not having scoring forwards but surely the pundits can’t paint the current side with that brush. I think we have a nice blend of hard workers and natural scorers up front.
Kevin McLoughlin and Alan Dillon are good ball winners who can be deployed deep in order to win possession while Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor can move from the full-forward line out to the half-forward line and visa-versa depending on what way the game is going.
I expect Conor Mortimer to start and then I think any one of Alan Freeman, Jason Doherty and Michael Conroy will fill the final vacant spot in the forwards. I know Jason Doherty scored three goals against Westmeath so that may sway the verdict in his favour, but all three have the ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Midfield conundrum
WHILE progressing to the League Final was a promising way to start the season, I thought that Cork identified Mayo’s midfield inadequacies in the decider.
Mayo were cleaned out in the midfield battlezone and we really missed Aidan O’Shea who had performed extremely well in the earlier rounds of the league. He hasn’t kicked a ball in eleven weeks at this stage, didn’t play in the ‘A’ v ‘B’ trial game last Sunday, and looks unlikely to feature on Sunday.
He’s a massive loss and would be the first name on my team-sheet if he was fit.
In Aidan’s absence, James Horan does have plenty of back-up options with Barry Moran and Seamus O’Shea probably my two front-runners.
Pat Harte has been tried there, Jason Gibbons or Danny Geraghty could also slot in there, while Ronan McGarrity has also been moving well in training I gather.
Unfortunately for Ronan he is the wrong side of 30, but he was always a clever footballer and has vital experience.
If we have four or five midfielders on the panel, it means that there is a competitive edge in training and plenty of competition for the two starting slots available so that is a positive.
But we need to get Aidan back on the field asap.
The story so far
FAR too much was read into Galway’s win over Roscommon. Don’t get me wrong, they played exceptionally well in Hyde Park and fully deserved to win by as much as they did, but Roscommon were extremely poor and made them look good.
Alan Mulholland has come in and brought in plenty of young guys like Danny Cummins and Mark Hehir and he is certainly building for the future.
But those lads were found out a little against Sligo and few could argue that the best team didn’t win.
I’m sure that Galway will bounce back and they have a few weeks to get things together before they tip-toe their way through the back door.
I know a lot of people were predicting a Mayo-Galway final and some of the gloss has been sanded off Connacht with Galway crashing out, but Sligo are a good solid team and will love going into the decider as underdogs — provided Mayo get the better of Leitrim.
There is a chance that Mayo could head into an All-Ireland quarter-final without being really tested but the main thing is to retain our Connacht title and then think about what happens in August and September.
From what I have seen so far, my fiver would definitely be on Cork to go all the way. They have a very balanced side with so much pace and power and they are the team to beat.
Defending champions Dublin are next on the list with possibly Donegal and Tyrone below them. Mayo are probably in the next bracket and we mightn’t find out just how good they are until July or August.
Exciting times ahead. Starting on Sunday.

Just a thought …
IT’S hard to believe it’s fifteen years since we last played Leitrim in McHale Park. Myself and one James Horan lined out that day in ’97 and I’m sure the memories will come flooding back on Sunday.