CALLING THE SHOTS Enda Gilvarry takes charge of the Mayo minor football team for a fourth championship season. Pic: Ray Ryan
WITH the Leaving Cert over can the Minor Football Championship be far behind?
The young students have barely time to reflect on their academic tests when they have to turn their attention to the Connacht campaign.
From the heady days of 2013, when Mayo swept all before them in winning the Tom Markham Cup, Enda Gilvarry’s young side suffered a heavy defeat to Galway in Castlebar last year.
No doubt they’ll be all out to atone for that inglorious defeat when they face Leitrim at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon tomorrow evening (Wednesday).
So what are we to expect from Mayo this year?
The Minor League opened with a heavy defeat to Roscommon. A twenty-one point defeat at the hands of the young Rossies drew some criticism, but much of it was unwarranted as it transpired Mayo were missing sixteen key players for that fixture.
Leitrim provided the opposition on March 19; the game was a curtain-raiser to the Under 21 championship encounter between the teams.
While it’s a dangerous exercise to read too much into the league, the game provided Enda Gilvarry with a clear insight of what to expect from Martin McGowan’s young side.
After a close error-ridden encounter, the teams finished level at eleven points apiece. Both teams kicked thirteen wides, giving an indication of the prolificacy of the sides.
Mayo faced Galway in round three of the league in Ballinrobe and this game showed that the Red & Green had improved beyond all recognition from the Leitrim game.
Mayo won by 2-12 to 1-9. A real tour-de-force display from Ross Egan in the second half, together with a stunning goal from substitute Justin Healy, put the issue beyond doubt.
However, the black card brandished to Galway midfielder Cian D’Arcy early in the second half certainly helped Mayo’s cause.
Sligo was next up and while Mayo took some time to find their feet, they won deservedly in the end.
Mayo’s campaign concluded with a fine display against Longford in Ballaghadereen.
The Westerners won that game with quite a bit to spare against a Longford side that were due to line out in the Leinster Championship the following week.
A feature of that game was the combination play and speed of the Westport duo of Oisín McLaughlin and Colm Moran in attack. Donovan Cosgrove was quite splendid at full-back.
Since the league concluded, obviously Mayo’s preparation has been curtailed to some extent due to the Leaving Cert. However, they have been busy with some challenge games against worthwhile opposition in Cork, Clare, Offaly and Donegal.
Generally speaking they have done well in all of them and the upward graph of improvement has continued.
Having watched the team close up during the league, one is left with a perception of a group in which the sum of the parts is greater than the individual elements.
Enda Gilvarry possesses a panel of players that work hard and are prepared to put in the hard yards in pursuit of success. There are very few stars or prima donnas in their ranks, but they may be the better for that in the long term.
How far can they progress in the championship? While the Leitrim game is a potential banana-skin, they can overcome it by adopting the right attitude and application.
A win here would guarantee a place in the Connacht Final and also participation in the All-Ireland quarter-final at least.
Enda Gilvarry has two fine goalkeepers in Paddy O’Malley and Adam Byrne to select from. Donovan Cosgrove (Kiltimagh) is in great form and should line out at full-back while Liam Kelly (Kiltimagh) and Matthew Macken (Claremorris) are amongst those that should find places in defence.
Nathan Moran (Hollymount/Carramore), Conor Stenson (Castlebar/Mitchels), and Colm Murphy (Balla) will vie for starting places at midfield although the latter could find a place in the half-forward line.
Mayo supporters should look forward to some speed-merchants in attack; Ross Egan (Aghamore), Oisín McLaughlin (Westport), Paul Lambert (Westport), Colm Moran (Westport), Justin Healy (Glenamoy), Tommy Conroy (The Neale), Nathan McGee (Shrule/Glencorrib), and Mikey Higgins (Claremorris) are amongst those that can expect to feature.
Although the game is a mid-week fixture, its vital that Mayo supporters will travel and support the young players.
Hopefully it will be a long summer.