BACK ON DUTY Mayo manager James Horan speaks to members of the media after last Friday evening’s game at the NUI Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome. Pic: Conor McKeown
MAYO have been handed a double boost ahead of the start of the National League in less than three weeks’ time with the news that both Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty are moving closer to a return to competitive action.
That’s according to James Horan, who told The Mayo News that while the experienced duo are working off different timelines, both of them are set to feature for Mayo over the course of the upcoming National League.
Mayo begin their Division 1 campaign against Donegal at Markievicz Park in Sligo on Sunday, January 30.
O’Connor, who will be 30 in May, hasn’t played since rupturing his Achilles tendon on June 13 last against Clare. However, Horan confirmed that he has been training with the Mayo squad in recent weeks and ‘is making great progress’.
“If you ask Cillian, he’ll be ready very soon but if you ask the medics it might be a bit longer,” smiled the Mayo manager.
“But we’re delighted with where he is, and as he always does with injuries, his application to rehab is very good. I’d have a guess… “But it’s [O’Connor’s return] not too far away…
“Cillian won’t be playing for the first couple of games,” he later added.
But Jason Doherty is ready to make his long-awaited return and could feature in the NFL opener at the end of the month, according to Horan.
The Burrishoole clubman, who turned 32 back in November, hasn’t played for Mayo since August 2019 after suffering two ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries in the space of 14 months.
However, despite suffering a setback last summer which ruled him out of Mayo’s 2021 championship campaign, Doherty did line out for Burrishoole in the Mayo Intermediate club championship last October.
He has also returned to training with Mayo in recent weeks and had been due to line out against Galway in the FBD League last Friday night.
However, he was unable to be in Bekan.
“He’s playing very well with us but he just couldn’t be here with us tonight. You know what’s happening around the world, so he just couldn’t be here,” said Horan.
“But he certainly would have been playing today. He’s trained very very well for us and, again, a model professional I’d say.
“So it’s just unfortunate for him that he didn’t get to play today.”
The Mayo boss also said that, apart from Cillian O’Connor, he expected everybody else to be fit and available for the aforementioned clash with Donegal.
“We’ve a lot of niggles, a lot of rehab. But we should have a strong group.”
Mayo are understood to be working with approximately 50 players in an ‘open-ended’ panel as they ramp up preparations for their return to Division 1.
No home games
MEANWHILE, Horan maintained that Mayo having no home games in the National League at MacHale Park in the coming months was something he hadn’t given much thought to.
Mayo’s three designated ‘home’ matches against Donegal, Armagh and Kildare are being played in Sligo, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon respectively, due to ongoing pitch resurfacing work at MacHale Park in Castlebar.
“I learned a long time ago in this gig not to worry about stuff that you can’t do anything about,” said Horan. “There’s nothing we can do, we haven’t even discussed it yet as a group or as a team.
“Markievicz Park is a lovely venue, The Hyde is a lovely venue, and Leitrim is a venue…
“So we’ll just get on with it.”
However, he admitted that MacHale Park being available for Mayo’s Connacht SFC quarter-final showdown with Galway was a different matter.
“Of course, that’s the one we’d love to have in Castlebar, there’s no question about that.
“I know Michael Diskin [Mayo GAA assistant treasurer and the project manager on the resurfacing works] is putting fertiliser on fairly soon.
“So that’s obviously one we’d love to have in Castlebar with a rocking house. So that’s pretty much day by day, I’d say.”