We’ve named the team to face Leitrim in Sunday’s Connacht championship semi-final at McHale Park (throw-in 3.30pm) and it’s one that contains three championship debutants. Kevin Keane and Lee Keegan (the latter featured – and scored – in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final but did so from the bench) are given their first championship starts in the backs while Danny Geraghty is somewhat surprisingly named to line out at midfield in a team that features three changes from the one that started against Cork in the league final back in April. Sunday’s team also contains just eight survivors from the side that took the field in our last championship outing, the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry last August. The starting fifteen are as follows:
Mayo (Connacht SFC semi-final v Leitrim 24/6/2012): David Clarke (Ballina Stephenites); Kevin Keane (Westport), Ger Cafferkey (Ballina Stephenites), Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis); Lee Keegan (Westport), Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe), Colm Boyle (Davitts); Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels), Danny Geraghty (Ballintubber); Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore), Cillian O’Connor (Ballintubber), Alan Dillon (Ballintubber); Alan Freeman (Aghamore), Andy Moran (Ballaghaderreen), Jason Doherty (Burrishoole).
The changes made from the league final team see Danny Geraghty coming in for Jason Gibbons at midfield (more on that in a bit), with Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty deposing Conor Mortimer and Michael Conroy respectively in the corner-forward slots. In addition, Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran swap jerseys, with the captain taking up his place at 14 and the Ballintubber man shifting out to 11.
Compared to last August’s team there are far more changes, but some of these – notably the O’Shea brothers – are injury-related. Out from that team go Robert Hennelly, Tom Cunniffe, Richie Feeney, Trevor Mortimer, the two O’Sheas and Enda Varley while in come David Clarke, Kevin Keane, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Barry Moran, Danny Geraghty and Jason Doherty.
I think the main talking point from this selection has to be the midfield. Barry Moran has been doing well in training and in challenge matches in recent weeks and while he’d never be first pick if we were starting with a full deck in this sector, his selection isn’t a surprise. The same can’t be said of the decision to start Danny Geraghty ahead of his Ballintubber clubmate Jason Gibbons.
I know Jason didn’t have a good league final (he was replaced by Pat Harte that day) but he wasn’t the only one and his league performances after he finally managed to break into the team – in particular his strong showing in the semi-final win over Kerry – seemed to suggest he’d be higher up the pecking order. Danny is, to be fair to him, a real battler and he performed well in midfield against the Dubs back at the end of March so I’m sure we can expect him to get properly stuck in when he makes his first championship start on Sunday.
The backs obviously picked themselves (which, after all the travails we’ve had in the backs over the last half-decade or so, is surely a positive sign) and Colm Boyle’s appearance at 7 sees him back in championship action for the first time since his miscast sojourn at corner-back in the 2008 campaign. I have a feeling that the world is going to see a very different Colm Boyle in this year’s championship.
In the forwards, James is once again persisting with Cillian O’Connor at centre-forward, despite the fact that this experiment – which he’s tried a number of times now – transparently isn’t one that’s working. I’m glad, though, to see both Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty back in the side and if I were Paddy Power I’d be tightening the odds on our banging in a few goals the next day with those two gents lurking close to the opposition’s square. Neither of them have provided much evidence as yet that they have what it takes to translate last year’s rich league form into the pressure-cooker that is the championship and while a goal feast on Sunday won’t alter that situation all that much, it would be a promising start nonetheless.
The names of those who are on the bench for Sunday haven’t been released yet but you’d have to think that we have plenty of options there too if needed. The likes of Michael Conroy, Conor Mortimer and Enda Varley could all add spice to the attack if called upon to do so and Jason Gibbons would obviously need little motivation to make his mark if introduced at midfield. Other possible strong performers off the bench are likely to include Shane McHale, Richie Feeney, Seamus O’Shea, Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte, though I guess we’ll have to wait ’till we get Sunday’s programme to see the list in full.