Details of the starting fifteen and subs for tomorrow night’s league opener against Laois at O’Moore Park (7pm throw-in) have just been officially announced, as follows:
Mayo (NFL Division One v Laois, 4/2/2012): David Clarke (Ballina Stephenites); Lee Keegan (Westport), Ger Cafferkey (Ballina Stephenites), Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis); Peadar Gardiner (Crossmolina), Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe), Richie Feeney (Castlebar Mitchels); Seamus O’Shea (Breaffy), Pat Harte (Ballina Stephenites); Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore), Alan Freeman (Aghamore), Alan Dillon (Ballintubber); Conor Mortimer (Parnells, Dublin), Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels), Andy Moran (Ballaghaderreen). Subs: Robert Hennelly (Breaffy), Kevin Keane (Westport), Danny Kirby (Castlebar Mitchels), Aidan O’Shea (Breaffy), Cillian O’Connor (Ballintubber), Enda Varley (Garrymore), Eoghan Reilly (Castlebar Mitchels), Michael Conroy (Davitts), Chris Barrett (Belmullet), Jason Doherty (Burrishoole), Colm Boyle (Davitts).
If we ignore for a moment the just-concluded FBD campaign and take our last competitive outing to be the All-Ireland semi-final last year, tomorrow night’s team contains nine players who started back in August against Kerry. Missing from that one are Robbie Hennelly, Tom Cunniffe, Trevor Mortimer, Aidan O’Shea, Enda Varley and Cillian O’Connor with David Clarke, Lee Keegan, Peadar Gardiner, Pat Harte, Conor Mortimer and Barry Moran coming in. Of the six who miss out, four are on the bench tomorrow night, with the other two – Tom and Trevor – well flagged in advance as being unavailable.
As regards the line-up for tomorrow night, we’re clearly following on from the team selection in the FBD. David Clarke did nothing wrong between the sticks (though I do wish he’d do something else with his kickouts aside from rooting the ball as high as he can down the middle). With Robbie Hennelly only returning from injury it makes sense to leave the Ballinaman with the jersey.
I’m a big fan of Lee Keegan but I think he’s better suited as a wing-man. As PJ said when he saw the team sheet for the FBD final, it’s a case, once more, of half-backs playing in the corners and that’s the position again tomorrow night.
The half-back line sure is an experienced one, with Peadar Gardiner hard to avoid after his positive displays in the FBD and with Richie Feeney slotting back in on the other wing. Much as I’d like to see Colm Boyle getting some game time, it would clearly make no sense to pitch him into battle only a little more than a week before Davitts’ big day at Croke Park. It’s good to see Colm and Michael Conroy listed among the subs, though.
Midfield wasn’t our best sector in the FBD – we tried four different pairings over the four matches and none of them seemed to work all that well – and we’ve now gone for a fifth variant, with Pat Harte moving back to team up with Seamus O’Shea. I thought Barry Moran did well enough there in the Roscommon match and I’m not sure if 14 is the place for him but O’Shea and Harte have complementary styles so it might be a fruitful combination. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.
I like the half-forward line. Kevin McLoughlin could be a real star for us this year and it’s great to see Alan Dillon back in his best position at 12. Alan Freeman had an unhappy enough summer campaign last year (after a great NFL) but he’s been firing well so far this year (in particular in the Sigerson) and he has the talent to provide the speed and directness we need at centre-forward.
Conor and Andy are sure to give their respective markers a hard enough time tomorrow night and pitching Bazza in along with them obviously allows for plenty of variation as regards what kind of ball goes in. Barry has had good and bad spells at full-forward but I guess there’s no harm in giving the experiment another go.
The bench is strong, very strong in fact, and you could see most of them challenging strongly for starting positions over the coming weeks and months. For me, the most intruiging addition to the list is Westport’s Kevin Keane: the former minor full-back seemed to slip off the radar altogether over the last while and, as far as I can tell, he has yet to feature under James Horan. This is a man who was born to play in the full-back line so maybe those half-backs playing in the corners shouldn’t be making themselves too much at home.