by Mark Higgins
These inter-county campaigns seem to arrive earlier every year. Mayo begins their 2022 season this evening when they welcome Galway to the Airdome at the Centre of Excellence. But then, considering we had to wait until the middle of May to get a look at the Green and Red last year, we shouldn’t be complaining.
This year’s FBD is straight knockout: Leitrim and Sligo kicked things off on Monday night, the second semi-final is on Saturday, and the final is next Friday evening. It’s as pre-season as pre-season gets, the most significant aspect of the whole thing being the location; the first-ever inter-county competition to be played entirely indoors, in the gentle hum of the Dome.
That’s not to say there aren’t come interesting plotlines to trace ahead of tomorrow night’s encounter. It will be the first meeting of the old rivals since last year’s Connacht final, when Mayo overturned a five-point half-time deficit to claim the Nestor Cup at half-time.
It’s unlikely that very many of the protagonists of that game, on either side, will be in action tomorrow night; with the knockout element, this could well be the only chance James Horan or Padraic Joyce get to test some new players in semi-competitive fare before the start of the National League at the end of the month.
And that is exactly what James Horan has opted for with no fewer than five debutants named in the team to start against Galway with a handful more prospects in the matchday 26. Donnacha McHugh, Sam Callinan, Frank Irwin, Fionnan Duffy and Jack Mahon are set to make their competitive bow for Mayo this evening from the start.
Galway, of course, are heading into a league campaign in Division 2. That means that the counties won’t meet in the league; this will be their one and only chance to give one another the eye before their blockbuster Connacht championship quarter-final in Castlebar in April.
That could encourage either group to lay down some early-season markers or, more likely, could lead to little more than shadow-boxing. Both of these panels are still in the early stages of their pre-season and neither Horan nor Joyce will be overly concerned if the result doesn’t go their way tomorrow night.
2022 looks like being a make-or-break year for Joyce in Galway. His record so far is unimpressive; two Connacht final defeats and relegation from Division 1 in two years in charge. The memories of their brilliant early 2020 form, and the adoration of the Galway fans for one of their greatest-ever players, sustained Joyce through to a third season when other managers might well have been jettisoned this winter but Galway need tangible progress this year, in the shape of a Connacht title and/or an All-Ireland semi-final spot.
For Mayo, it’s the familiar task of getting the ball rolling once again. Horan, going into the fourth year of his second term, still needs to find those few fractional improvements. Tonight in the Dome is the place to start looking.
Mayo team to play Galway:
1. Rory Byrne Castlebar Mitchels
2. Donnacha McHugh Castlebar Mitchels
3. Padraig O’Hora Ballina Stephenites
4. Sam Callinan Ballina Stephenites
5. Paddy Durcan (C) Castlebar Mitchels
6. Michael Plunkett Ballintubber
7. Eoghan McLaughlin Westport
8. Conor O’Shea Breaffy
9. Jordan Flynn Crossmolina Deel Rovers
10. Fergal Boland Aghamore
11. Diarmuid O’Connor Ballintubber
12. Frank Irwin Ballina Stephenites
13. James Carr Ardagh
14. Fionnan Duffy Crossmolina Deel Rovers
15. Jack Mahon Charlestown
16. Jack Livingstone Breaffy
17. Paddy Heneghan Castlebar Mitchels
18. Matthew Ruane Breaffy
19. Robert Hennelly Breaffy
20. Stephen Coen Hollymount/ Carramore
21. Ruairi Keane Mayo Gaels
22. Justin Healy Cill Chomain
23. Rory Brickenden Westport
24. Ryan O’ Donoghue Beal an Mhuirthead
25. Paul Towey Charlestown
26. Darren Coen Hollymount/Carramore
Galway team to play Mayo:
1. Conor Flaherty (Claregalway GAA)
2. Jack Glynn (Claregalway)
3. Seán Fitzgerald (CLG Bhearna)
4. Liam Silke (CorofinGAA)
5. Johnny Heaney (Killannin Gaa)
6. Dylan McHugh (Corofin)
7. Cillian McDaid (Monivea Abbey GAA Football Club)
8. Niall Daly (Kilconly GAA)
9. Matthew Tierney (Oughterard)
10. Cormac McWalter (Tuam Stars GAA Club)
11. Paul Conroy (St. James’ GAA – Galway)
12. Finnian Ó Laoí (C.L.G. An Spidéal)
13. Robert Finnerty (Salthill Knocknacarra GAA Club)
14. Damien Comer (Annaghdowngaa)
15. Dessie Conneelly (Cumann Peile Mhaigh Cuilinn)