Mayo manager James Horan cut a happy figure in the sweltering sunshine of MacHale Park last Sunday afternoon after his team came away with an eight-point win over Meath in Division 2 North of the National Football League.
The result meant that Mayo completed a clean sweep of the group following the victories over Down and Westmeath and finished top of the standings. They will now face Clare, the second-placed team in Division 2 South, in Ennis, in the semi-finals in two weeks’ time.
Mayo had the hard work done in the first half, racking up 3-11 in the opening 35 minutes. James Carr hit the back of the net twice and Cillian O’Connor converted a penalty. In the second half, with a gap between the teams, Mayo let their foot off the gas on the scoring front and tallied just six points.
“We did some very good stuff in the first half but got a bit sloppy in the second half,” Horan admitted after the game. “But overall it was good to win and we’re trying to change or tweak a few things and overall, it was a good day out.”
Having already qualified for the semi-finals, Horan made wholesale changes to the team. Eoin O’Donoghue, Stephen Coen, Fergal Boland and Darren McHale saw their first action of the season from the start of the game. Jack Carney also made his first start for the senior team and Paul Towey came off the bench for his first minutes of the season, scoring three points in the second half.
“It was good that we got a few of those guys to get some game time, I thought Darren McHale did very well and Eoin O’Donoghue in his first game in a while. A lot of that stuff was very good to see,” offered Horan.
“Jack Carney’s training with us very well and that’s the avenue into the team. He’s a very competent player and he’s someone who has fitted in very well. We’re happy with his progress.”
Aidan O’Shea also made his return from injury, having been sidelined in recent weeks. He wasted no time getting stuck in and had the ball over the bar within seconds of his introduction on 48 minutes.
“Aidan’s a very good ball player and we’ve known that for the last decade. His skills on the ball are very good and he reads it very well so he was able to get into the game very quickly,” said Horan.
He praised the depth he has at his disposal, having used 32 players in the league thus far this campaign. He said the shape of the team he will select come championship time is starting to emerge, but there is still plenty of work to be done in that regard.
“We have a very strong panel and have a lot of guys that are fighting for a place at a similar level. It will be all to play for in the next few weeks.
“There are some patterns out there that are exactly how we want to try to play. We’re a long way off that yet but we’re improving all the time.”
Horan said they will be now preparing and looking forward to their league semi-final with Clare in two weeks’ time. On the injury front, he said he is hoping they can make the most of their two-week break to try and do some recovery work.
“It’s about developing and growing each game that we play. That’s what we’re trying to do in developing this squad. We try to tweak some things, some of it is working and some of it not but winning games along the way is good as well.
“We have a few guys with knocks and bangs so hopefully they’ll be good to go in two weeks’ time.
“We played Clare in a lot of challenge matches down through the years and they’re excellent in how they set up and play the game. That’s going to be a big battle for us,” he continued.