There’s a very brief report in the Mayo News about Tuesday evening’s challenge match with Westmeath (which, incidentally, took place in the pretty Shannonside hamlet of Tarmonbarry and not in Abbeylara), which is so brief it doesn’t contain a team-sheet. It does say, however, that Johnno only had eighteen players at his disposal for the game (maybe the rest of them were kicking their heels in Abbeylara) and that Keith Higgins and Peadar Gardiner both got some useful game time. The report also points out that, once again, Tom Cunniffe lined out at centre-back and although Donal Vaughan has also been tried out in this position in recent weeks, it now appears a racing certainty that the Castlebar man will start there for the Sligo match too.
This development should, of course, come as no surprise, as he played at 6 for the whole of last year’s NFL campaign. Trevor Howley was a long-term absentee with that nasty ligament problem he had at that time but Trevor’s return to fitness coincided with Tom disappearing off the radar ever since with his equally long-term groin problems. The last competitive match Tom played for us was our final league match in 2009, against Tyrone in Castlebar, which was over a year ago. His last championship outing for us was, however, way back in August 2008, when he lined out at full-back against Tyrone at Croke Park and where he did a fine job on Sean Cavanagh (it wasn’t until the big man from Moy went out to midfield that he did all the damage to us that day). Earlier that summer, Tom lined out at right half-back on the team that enjoyed a facile win over Sligo in the Connacht semi-final and he then retained his place there for the narrow Connacht final defeat we suffered against Galway a few weeks later.
I won’t be Hollymount this evening for the challenge match with the Dubs (throw-in there is at 7.30 pm) but another run-out at centre-back for Tom tonight will provide all the confirmation we need that he’s the man who now occupies this vital place on the team as we face into another summer of championship action.