Tuesday, 01 February 2011 10:47
A new beginning, a new manager and, most likely, a new team. While Mayo manager James Horan will undoubtedly be learning to crawl in the national league before he starts to walk, the likelihood is we will see a lot of new faces feature in Mayo's seven national league games, which open literally under the glare of the floodlights at McHale Park
when Down come to town this Saturday night.
For manager James Horan, the learning curve is already well underway and he has managed to use the FBD League rather wisely for trying out new talent while at the same time getting results.
It won't be as easy to strike the same balance in what is a tough national league and Horan and his mentors may well have to sacrifice results, and indeed be open to some criticism, in his efforts to build a team worthy of the championship.
If he sacrifices one but makes progress in the other then he will be forgiven, but the worst case scenario would be a bad league and a poor championship.
Horan will be comforted somewhat when he scans Mayo's championship graph of 2010, which takes on the appearance of an aeroplane that fails to reach cruising height and suddenly falls from the sky, disappearing totally off the radar.
Mayo failed to take off in Sligo and on a second attempt crash-landed in Longford where their championship ambitions were strewn all over the turf.
Ironically, Mayo's championship demise was based on one of their best leagues, if you leave the league final itself against Cork aside.
Mayo had beaten every team bar Dublin, collecting the scalps of Derry, Tyrone, Monaghan and Galway, but it was significant that Cork, who had the luxury of already being in the final, did not offer much resistance to Mayo, who took the points in the final game and went to Croke Park as table-toppers, Dublin giving way to Cork on score difference.
The league final was a different story and Mayo felt the full force of Cork, who went on to complete a league and championship double, but for John O'Mahony and Mayo supporters the league tealeaves forbade a summer famine and the end of the road for O'Mahony.
Three major questions have dominated the last month: when will Fianna Fáil be shafted from office? How much have your wages been cut? And finally, how will James Horan do?
We know the answers to the first two but the third is anybody's guess. The man has to be given time to become familiar with the premises before we start complaining about the quality of the drink.
He has done well in his the FBD League outings. He seems well aware of the shortcomings of Mayo football as he tries to build a solid spine down the middle, and a few players have emerged who could solve some of those problems.
He has a good pick of midfielders. Quality full-backs are not jumping out at the moment while the scoring ratio does not make for particularly impressive reading, apart from Cillian O'Connor and Mark Ronaldson, the two top players, but the likes of Jason Doherty from Burrishoole scored well for NUIG, for whom Alan Dillon and Peadar Gardiner have been featuring prominently.
Horan will have to mix the old and the new and getting the blend right will be his biggest challenge - and they don't come any tougher than Down, last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists, who were promoted to Division 1A this year after winning division two last year.
Mayo will be anxious for a good start and with four home games they will be anxious to make an impression. I can see James Horan and Mayo getting off to a good start.
NFL Division 1A
Mayo v Down, McHale Park, Castlebar, Saturday, 7.30 p.m.
Who has played
Mayo v GMIT: D. Clarke, C. Hallinan, G. Cafferkey, A. Feeney, J. Burke, M. Nestor, C. Barrett, R. McGarrity, J. Moran, A. Campbell, A. O'Malley, A. Kilcoyne, K. Dolan, A. Moran, C. O'Connor.
Subs used: E. Varley for K. Dolan, M. Ronaldson for A. O'Malley, R. O'Connor for C. Barrett, D. Killeen for G. Cafferkey. L. Keegan for A. Feeney.
Mayo v Roscommon: K. O'Malley, K. Higgins, D. Killeen, E. Reilly, T. Howley, L. Keegan, R. O'Connor, B. Moran, J. Kilcullen, I. Rowland, C. Freeman, A. Farrell, E. Varley, M. Ronaldson, B. Benson.
Subs used: R. Feeney for T. Howley, J. Gibbons for J. Kilcullen, A. O'Malley for A. Farrell, A. Kilcoyne for Benson, C. Hallinan for B. Moran.
Mayo v Leitrim: K. O'Malley, C. Hallinan, A. Feeney, R. Feeney, C. Barrett, G. Cafferkey, J. Burke, J. Gibbons, J. Moran, A. Campbell, A. O'Malley, A. Moran, A. Kilcoyne, A. Freeman, M. Ronaldson.
Subs used: C. Naughton, K. McLoughlin, T. Cunniffe, J. McAndrew and M. Nestor.