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Mayo’s talent search begins again

Sport

Places will be up for grabs in the Mayo senior squad this year

Feature
Mike Finnerty

UNCERTAINTY seems to be the name of the game in most walks of life just now.
Nobody is too sure exactly when the GAA season will begin again in earnest either and what it’s going to look like in terms of restrictions and regulations.
But regardless of when the 2021 campaign throws in, the Mayo senior football squad is going to look quite different after the recent retirements of David Clarke, Donie Vaughan, Chris Barrett, Keith Higgins, Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea.
Their departures means that James Horan has some considerable holes to fill in terms of experience, leadership, and quality.
Not to mention the fact that Clarke and Barrett were regular starters until December 19 last.
Finding replacements for the duo in the first XV, while also trying to bolster the wider squad to fill the boots of Higgins and Parsons et al will be easier said than done.
With that in mind, over the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at some players who might be in line to follow the likes of Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy into the Mayo senior set-up.
That this Mayo team is now officially in the transition phase is underlined by the fact that James Horan tried out 37 different players between the National League and the championship last year; while also handing championship debuts to nine newcomers.
So to get the ball rolling, here are four footballers we think you might be hearing more about in the months ahead, especially once the inter-county season gets into full swing.

Goalkeeper
Conor O’Malley
Westport
THE 26 year-old walked away from a career in professional soccer last summer when his contract with Peterborough United expired and, while he didn’t return to the GAA fold with Westport last season, he is expected to line out with the West Mayo club in 2021.
Whether that is in goal or out the field remains to be seen.
O’Malley was the Mayo minor goalkeeper in 2012 before concentrating on his soccer career.
However, he told this newspaper last year that lining out for Mayo at senior level had ‘crossed his mind’ following his decision to return to Ireland.
“I want to take a break from high level sport for a short while so I can try and enjoy playing again,” he said last April. “I want to get away from that kind of environment and to experience something else.”
With David Clarke now retired, perhaps Conor O’Malley’s time is about come?
He is currently working with wealth management company, Davy.

Defender
Enda Hession
Garrymore
THE former St Colman’s College, Claremorris star is extremely highly-rated in South Mayo.
A versatile and stylish half-back, he was the Mayo Under-17 captain back in 2018 and lined out at wing-back for the county Under-20s last season.
Hession is also underage for the Under-20 grade again this year and if he stays fit and healthy then his pace, ball-skills and ability to break the line will be a big asset for Mayo.
A member of a famous Garrymore footballing family, Enda could be set to follow in the footsteps of his Carras team-mate, Oisin Mullin, and break into the senior ranks sooner rather than later. He is currently studying to be a primary school teacher.

Midfielder
Jack Carney
Kilmeena
FEW GAA clubs in Mayo have made as much progress off the field as Kilmeena in recent years. But they are also making great strides in terms of developing young footballers, and their upwardly mobile midfielder is a case in point.
It’s only three years ago that Carney was catching the eye with Rice College, Westport as they powered their way into a Hogan Cup Final at Croke Park.
Fast forward a few short seasons and the 19 year-old has represented Mayo at Minor (2018) and Under-20 (2020) level, as well as playing in a County Junior Final with his club.
James Horan likes his midfielders to be mobile, skilful, ball-winners and Carney ticks all these boxes.
He’s also another of this year’s Under-20 crop, and is another man currently studying to be a primary school teacher.

Forward
Frank Irwin
Ballina Stephenites
JUST four months ago the talented 18 year-old lined out in the Mayo Minor ‘A’ football final with the Stephenites, but he seems destined for bigger and better things in the near future.
A son of former Mayo goalkeeper, Gabriel Irwin, the powerfully-built midfielder/forward lined out at number 11 for the Mayo Under-20s last spring.
That came just a few weeks after he was reported to have really impressed Australian Rules scouts at the AFL ‘Combine’ in Dublin — all while still at secondary school!
Known for his accuracy from dead balls and frees, Irwin came off the bench for the Stephenites in the senior club championship on a number of occasions last year.
The Leaving Cert student will be one of the first names on Maurice Sheridan’s Under-20 teamsheet this year and the next logical step is surely a run-out with the Mayo seniors.

 

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