The team for this Saturday evening’s championship opener against Sligo at Markievicz Park (throw-in 5 pm) has been named and the starting fifteen is as follows:
Mayo CSFC v Sligo: David Clarke (Ballina Stephenites); Chris Barrett (Belmullet), Ger Cafferkey (Ballina Stephenites), Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis); Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe), Tom Cunniffe (Castlebar Mitchels), Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore); Tom Parsons (Charlestown), Ronan McGarrity (Ballina Stephenites); Andy Moran (Ballghaderreen), Seamus O’Shea (Breaffy), Trevor Mortimer (Shrule–Glencorrib); Conor Mortimer (Shrule–Glencorrib), Alan Freeman (Aghamore), Enda Varley (Garrymore).
There are, obviously, plenty of talking points about this selection. Debutants first: four players – Chris Barrett, Seamus O’Shea, Alan Freeman and Enda Varley – are named to make their first ever championship starts. Chris and Seamus have both been around for a fair while and, but for injuries, would surely have featured for us in the championship before now. Both enjoyed good NFL campaigns and, despite the fact that both might arguably have lost out had everyone been fit, they still richly deserve their respective places in Saturday’s team.
The inclusion of Alan Freeman and Enda Varley in the starting fifteen means that Aghamore and Garrymore both provide players for the same county team in a championship match for the first time in around a quarter-century (when Jimmy Burke and Johnny Monaghan would have been in the thick of things). I’m delighted to see both lads get the nod as both (especially Enda) showed sparkling form during the league and they deserve a shot on the starting fifteen at this time of year.
This does, though, mean that last year’s Twin Towers of Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea have both been omitted this time out. The former is, in all likelihood, injured again (this is Big Baz we’re talking about here) but Aidan has undoubtedly been dropped. Undeservedly so? When you think about some of the NFL final performances put in by others, you’d have to think that Aidan is a tad unlucky to be included in a list of three (along with Liam O’Malley and Mark Ronaldson) from that no-show to lose their places. If performances in that match counted for anything, then Tom Parsons and Trevor Mortimer can certainly count themselves as damn lucky to make the first fifteen this Saturday evening.
Injuries do appear, however, to have narrowed Johnno’s options somewhat. Having lost the centre-back position to Tom Cunniffe, Trevor Howley then suffered a hamstring injury and that explains his absence. Alan Dillon would have been a certain starter (almost definitely on the forty, which would have made no bloody sense but there you go) and Pat Harte would have been pushing for a place too. Once Alan was out (and Killer as well), the obvious choice was to go with the half-forward line that started the league campaign so well but both Andy and Trevor now need to repay Johnno’s confidence in them with the kind of performance we haven’t seen from either in a while.
Overall, Saturday’s team sees eight changes from the side that started in our last championship match, against Meath last August, with only Donal Vaughan, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Andy Moran, Ronan McGarrity, Tom Parsons and Trevor Mortimer having also started that day. Ten of this year’s NFL final starting fifteen also line out on Saturday, with the injured Trevor Howley and Alan Dillon, as well as Liam O’Malley, Mark Ronaldson and Aidan O’Shea giving way.
That’s it, then – that’s the team that will carry our hopes into the start of this year’s championship and which will hopefully secure victory for us in Markievicz Park this Saturday evening.