CALL TO ARMS From left, Paddy Durcan, Brendan Harrison, Robbie Hennelly, Stephen Coen, Oisín Mullin and Ryan O’Donoghue are pictured before Mayo’s National League game against Dublin back in February. Pic: Sportsfile
WITH the summer carnival that was the Mayo club championships now done and dusted, the focus of the county’s footballers and supporters has already started to shift towards the restart of the inter-county season in less than three weeks’ time.
For Mayo that means a short spin to Pearse Stadium in Salthill on Sunday, October 18 for their long-awaited local derby against Galway. It was labelled a ‘must win’ game back in March before all GAA matches were shelved as part of the country’s response to the threat of Covid-19. Little did we know that more than six months later we would still be waiting to see if Galway would ‘bate’ Mayo and nudge them towards the relegation trapdoor.
All will be revealed after Mayo’s two remaining league games against the Tribesmen and Tyrone a week later in Castlebar, while the Connacht championship clash with Leitrim is approaching at high speed too.
It’s worth remembering that Mayo are potentially looking at five ‘make or break’ matches in five weeks — beginning with the Galway league game — if they get on a winning run in this knock-out Autumn championship.
But in the meantime there is plenty for James Horan and company to be getting on with.
On the plus side, Jason Doherty and Colm Boyle are both back in harness after recovering from their respective knee injuries during lockdown. Doherty was tantalising close to making his return from a torn ACL anyway before the plug was pulled on the National League last spring.
But since then he has come through Burrishoole’s summer campaigns with flying colours, and looked to have benefitted from the extra time he got to work on his rehab.
Boyle, meanwhile, looked set to be sidelined for most (if not all) of Mayo’s season after sustaining a ‘serious knee injury’ against Dublin at the start of February.
However, due to the wonders of modern medicine and science, the four-time All Star returned to action with Davitts at the end of July and turned in a string of impressive performances in the club championship.
As a result, the 34 year-old is on course to line out in the Connacht championship again next month, 12 years after he made his senior championship debut.
Unfortunately though, it’s not all good news for Mayo on the knee injury front.
Back in mid-July, Brendan Harrison limped off during Aghamore’s first club game of the season against Knockmore after picking up what seemed like an innocuous knock to his knee.
However, the All Star defender hasn’t played since and, by all accounts, the chances of him lining out for Mayo in the upcoming championship seems increasingly unlikely.
If that does turn out to be the case it will leave Horan with a problem to solve in his full-back line, and probably increases the chances of Oisin Mullin making his senior championship debut against Leitrim.
Another player currently working his way back to fitness is Ballintubber’s Diarmuid O’Connor, who was last seen limping off during the Abbeysider’s club championship quarter-final defeat to Knockmore four weeks ago.
Having the 25 year-old fully fit and at the peak of his powers would be a huge boost to a Mayo attack that will be going into championship battle without Andy Moran for the first time since 2004 this year.
Among the new faces trying to force their way into Mayo’s match-day squads in the weeks ahead will be Knockmore’s Darren McHale and Westport’s Mark Moran, two forwards who were rewarded for their impressive club championship form with invitations to join the reformed county panel.
James Horan — along with members of his backroom team like Ciaran McDonald, Martin Lally and James Burke — were spotted at club games all around the county over the last few months as they scouted for talent and checked up on the form of their trusted lieutenants.
Now they can be found at MacHale Park a few times a week, making plans for the league matches and championship games that will define this unprecedented year for Mayo.
Getting ready to start all over again.