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Kingdom come to renew rivalry

Sean Rice
David Heaney and Peadar Gardiner
IF THE CAP FITS David Heaney and Peadar Gardiner were interested spectators as Mayo beat NUI, Galway in the FBD Connacht League in Ballinrobe last week. Pic: Michael Donnelly

Kingdom come to renew rivalry

Sean RiceSean Rice

IT will not draw the sell-out attendance of Dublin’s meeting with Tyrone, but as a focus of interest Mayo’s clash with Kerry in the opening round of Div 1A of the Allianz League at McHale Park is in every way comparable to the Croke Park duel. The whole country is looking forward to the contest, and wondering will the return of John O’Mahony make the difference in Mayo football that so many want to see.
No one is expecting miracles overnight from the new manager. But because he is among the high profile managers in the country he is attracting considerable national attention and, win or lose on Sunday, the national spotlight will continue to shine on him, and as a corollary on Mayo, throughout the season.
It is a bit unfortunate for him that the two counties meet so soon after Kerry’s demolition of Mayo in the All-Ireland final. Ever since that stark exposition of our deficiencies it is being asked how would John O’Mahony have handled the situation had he been in charge.
The truth is that whatever the outcome, Mayo would have taken the field in a different frame of mind. On that aspect of their preparation his input would have differed from Mickey Moran, and on instilling that indefinable quality of self confidence, as well as developing their physical preparedness, he will be concentrating throughout his term in charge.
Already management has been working on finding a firm backbone for the team without which none can prosper. Physical strength down the centre is vital.
Experiments have been taking place in the FBD League and will continue throughout the National League. Some of their findings will be put to the test on Sunday, and for those lining out against Kerry it will be a baptism of fire.
This time last year Mayo travelled to Tralee and surprised the Kerrymen by emerging with a one-point victory. It was a solid start to the season, and spurred them to a semi-final place which they lost to Galway. But although they come as dual champions on Sunday the Kingdom will be more prepared than they were as last year’s hosts, expecting more from Mayo than they gave in the All-Ireland final.
On the basis of the FBD trials it is difficult to predict the selectors’ choice for this first round. For the Ballinrobe outing last Wednesday, their final FBD game, there was yet again a different formation. It didn’t work quite as well as the previous composition. But, as was the case in Sligo, the NUIG side were more competitive than Roscommon and because all of them were hoping for places on their Sigerson Cup team, had done more preparatory work.
For much of the first half Mayo were second best. Their passing in general was poor, particularly when under pressure. On other occasions some players overused the ball, and having run into cover were dispossessed. The students took the game to them, were much more positive on the ball and, deservedly, led by two points at the interval.
The decision of John O’Mahony and his selectors to persevere with Marty McNicholas was rewarded. In none of his two previous games was the Breaffy man eye-catching. On Wednesday at Ballinrobe he came good, setting Mayo on the road to victory with the goal he had been promising all night.
It came thirteen minutes into the second half when they were struggling to hold onto their one-point lead. Michael Conroy, Aidan Kilcoyne and Aidan Campbell set him up, and McNicholas did not shirk the opportunity.

Mind you, that midriff sock failed to fell the college men, for a few minutes later David Duffy had their goal. It was only when Austin O’Malley powered home their second goal in the 49th minute that Mayo took command, and glided for the remainder of the game.
O’Malley, at full-forward, was quieter in the first half than against Roscommon, but his returning confidence resurfaced in the second half, and his total of 1-4 speaks for itself.
Having missed the Roscommon match through injury, James Kilcullen was back at full-back where he had to deal with Galway’s roving Fiachara Breathnach and, without being spectacular, the Ballaghaderreen man did a reasonably good job keeping the full-forward scoreless. If selected on Sunday he is likely to face Kieran Donaghy who destroyed Mayo in the All-Ireland, and how he copes may decide his future as a full-back. His could be an interesting national league debut.
Seven changes were made by the selectors from the team that beat Roscommon.
Ger Brady was back in his old position at centre-half forward with Trevor Mortimer at left half. Mickey Mullins of Claremorris was at right-half forward and Davitts’ Michael Conroy at left corner. Both did reasonably well, although Mullins will have learned of the trouble into which aimless solo runs often lead.
     Billy Joe Padden was given another opportunity to win a more permanent position at centre-half back, a position in which he had a notable performance against Roscommon, and while he was less conspicuous in Ballinrobe he read the game well. He will be staking claim for inclusion in next Sunday’s team as will Gary Mullins and Liam O’Malley.
A further midfield pairing was pushed into action with James Nallen and Eanna Casey taking over in Ballinrobe, the third new pairing. Neither managed to lay down a distinctive mark of quality for that position, but, if not chosen in the first fifteen, are legitimate back-up material. Nallen may have lost some of his physical powers for centre-half back, but he has lost none of his mental vigour, and he is still an asset to any management.
Wednesday’s team showed ten changes in personnel from the side that took the field in the All-Ireland final, and their dramatic improvement after the break is an indication of the growing confidence of the alternative choices.
They were given a fillip by the introduction in the second half of Aidan Kilcoyne and Aidan Campbell, but while they might have been flattered somewhat by the margin of victory there was no doubt about the merit of their win.
In none of the FBDs did Conor Mortimer, Ciaran McDonald, Kevin O’Neill or Pat Harte take part, and the last two mentioned will not be available on Sunday. Everyone else is and will be competing with the emerging talent from the successful U-21 side for places. The more serious competition begins on Sunday, but the experiments will continue with that championship clash at Pearse Stadium at the end of May in mind.

BALLINROBE LIGHTS ARE TALK OF TOWN
LIT-UP grounds will be the objective of many clubs following the success of Mayo’s FBD joust with NUI, Galway at Ballinrobe. It was a memorable occasion, Mayo’s first home game under lights, and the Ballinrobe club are to be congratulated on setting a headline which other clubs in the county are sure to follow.
The lights drew favourable comments from the attendance and were certainly far superior to those in use at Ballinode for Mayo’s FBD match with Sligo IT. Another chance to experience floodlit football at Flanagan Park is being provided by the club when Mayo meet Paidi O’Shea’s Clare in a challenge on Saturday, February 17, to mark the official opening of the floodlights at the ground.
Elsewhere, Jim Carney of the Tuam Herald was presented with the Lifelong Award for Service to Journalism at the Connacht Council Annual Awards in the Travellers Friend Hotel on Friday night. It was an overdue award for a man who, as a broadcaster and writer, has served his newspaper and the Irish public in general diligently and faithfully for close on forty years with his vast well of knowledge of Gaelic games.
A native of Milltown, Jim commenced his journalistic career in the Tuam Herald and later moved to RTE where he established himself as one of the outstanding sports commentators in the country. Following a severe motor accident Jim returned to the west, working for a short while with the Connacht Tribune before resuming his career at the Tuam Herald, where he is recognised as a leading authority on football and hurling. He also continues to work with RTE television’s coverage of Gaelic games.
He has been chairman of the Connacht Sports Writers Group, and has played a huge role in the selection of the Connacht Gaelic games monthly awards over the past five years. On Friday night he announced his retirement from that role and is being replaced by Liam Horan.
The Michael McDonnell Perpetual Award for Sports Personality of the Year went to the captain of the All-Ireland winning Roscommon minor team David Flynn.

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