The starting line-up for Saturday’s Connacht semi-final with Roscommon at McHale Park (throw-in 5 pm) has just been announced. Here it is:
Mayo (Connacht SFC v Roscommon, 20/6/2009): Kenneth O’Malley; Liam O’Malley, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner, Trevor Howley, Andy Moran; David Heaney, Ronan McGarritty; Pat Harte, Trevor Mortimer (captain), Alan Dillon; Aidan Kilcoyne, Barry Moran, Aidan O’Shea.
There are no surprises about the bulk of that fifteen, with Johnno maintaining the broad shape of the side that started in New York last month. There are still four changes from the team that started that match, however, with injuries ruling out David Clarke and (possibly) Tom Parsons as well. Kevin McLoughlin and Donal Vaughan – two of this year’s U21s who also featured prominently during the league campaign – both drop to the bench but one of them could well end up starting the game if Liam O’Malley (who, somewhat surprisingly, is named in his usual corner-back spot) isn’t fit enough to play. The decision to field Keith Higgins, who despite his long absence from the team is still one of our top players, in place of McLoughlin at left corner is tough on the young Knockmore man (especially if he loses out to Vaughan for the other corner-back position should Liam O’Malley not start) but it’s a simple case of Johnno opting for the more experienced man.
The same can also be said of David Heaney’s return to the fray. His inclusion in the first fifteen isn’t a huge surprise but the fact that he lines out at midfield – which was also, by the way, his last championship starting position for us (against Tyrone last August) – is what’s interesting. Tom Parsons was one of the players that the Indo said today was struggling to be fit for the game but it’s also the case that the Charlestown man hasn’t been in top form at any point this year. Midfield is a sector where we’re undoubtedly struggling a bit – we could easily, I fear, find ourselves labouring there on Saturday too – and obviously Heaney’s big-match experience (in a spot that’s, thankfully, well away from our own posts too) sees him included at the expense of this year’s U21 captain. We’ll need a big performance there from the Swinford man if we’re to keep the Rossies in check.
The half-back and half-forward lines more or less picked themselves (but what, then, was the point of shifting Andy Moran round the place for those recent challenge games, not to mention his move back to corner-forward for the New York match?) and so the other main talking point comes in the full-forward line where Aidan Kilcoyne gets the nod over Conor Mortimer to start alongside our own version of the Twin Towers. Killer mixed the good with the not-so-good in recent challenge matches – he was great, apparently, against Westmeath but not so hot in the match I went to against Dublin – and Johnno will, no doubt, be hoping that the Knockmore man shows the same form on Saturday as he did in Connacht last year. In that respect, another goal like this one wouldn’t go amiss the next day. Conor has been in and out of the team for months now and is only returning to fitness following his recent hand injury and so his omission from Saturday’s line-up hasn’t the kind of seismic effect it might otherwise have had. It goes without saying that he’ll be a good man to have on the blue seats in case he’s needed on Saturday and, if called upon, you can be sure he’ll want to make his mark on the scoreboard.
Overall, then, it’s in many ways a typical Johnno team-sheet, in that experimentation has been minimised but a few major calls have nonetheless been made. We don’t have long to wait now to see how this particular championship line-up fares out.