Sunday, February 06, 2022

By Mark Higgins

Mayo hurlers begin their 2022 National League campaign this Sunday afternoon as they welcome Wicklow to James Stephens Park in Ballina. The hurlers will compete in Division 2B of the league again this year, where they will take on Wicklow, London, Derry, Sligo and Donegal.

Derek Walsh has entered his fifth season in charge of the Mayo senior hurling team. Picture: David Farrell Photography

Mayo are down to play their three home games – against Wicklow, Sligo and Donegal – in Ballina due to the ongoing unavailability of MacHale Park. They are away to London in Ruislip in Round 2 on February 13 and to Derry in Celtic Park in Round 3 on February 27.
Derek Walsh remains at the helm of the hurlers for a fifth season this year, the Ballyhaunis clubman having had his term as manager extended for two more seasons last autumn.
Last season was a successful one for the hurlers, who claimed the Nicky Rackard title and the accompanying promotion back to the Christy Ring for 2022. They also came within a game of achieving promotion from Division 2B in the league but lost their final round match against Kildare in Castlebar.
Mayo played two pre-season matches in the Connacht Hurling League, albeit with severely weakened teams on both occasions due to Tooreen’s involvement in the All-Ireland club series. Mayo lost both games to Leitrim and Sligo but Walsh did at least get to road-test some new faces in his senior squad, including a number of players from clubs such as Ballina Stephenites and Westport, who have had limited involvement in the county squad in recent seasons.
From Walsh’s point of view, Tooreen’s recent defeat to Naas was probably no great curse. Mayo’s playing stocks may be deepening but it would still have been a severe disadvantage to head into a new league season with the Tooreen players still unavailable.
The men from the Garden County reached the semi-finals of last year’s Christy Ring cup, although they were given an unmerciful 37-point trimming by a resurgent Offaly on that occasion. But they have been in good form in recent weeks, winning the Kehoe Shield – the Leinster Council’s third-tier pre-season hurling competition – with a final victory over Louth.
Andy O’Brien fired the only goal in Wicklow’s 1-19 to 0-15 win while Seamie Germaine and John Toomey were impressive in the half-forward line. They are managed by Eamon Scallan and include amongst their backroom team the eight-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny, Eoin Larkin.

Keith Higgins hands over the captaincy reigns to Tooreen man Shane Boland for this season.

Meanwhile, Shane Boland has been confirmed as Mayo captain for the 2022 campaign. Boland is one of five Tooreen players named to start the Division 2B clash at James Stephens Park in Ballina with goalkeeper Bobby Douglas, full-back Daniel Huane and forwards Sean Kenny and Eoin Delaney also included in team announced on Saturday.

Last year’s captain Keith Higgins, of course, remains central to Mayo’s plans and is selected at centre-back – one of six Ballyhaunis players on the team, including Paul Kirwan who joined the East Mayo club in December from Dunnamaggin in Kilkenny. Kirwin hurled at minor and under-21 level for the Cats and has been named at midfield. His new clubmates Brian Hunt, Mark Phillips, Kieran McDermott and Adrian Philips are also named in the starting fifteen.

A trio of Westport players will also make their league debuts for Mayo with Michael Gallagher selected at right corner-back, Kealon Gallagher at right corner-forward and Aaron Ketterick at full-forward.

Left corner-back Conor Murray is the sole representative from Castlebar Mitchels on the starting fifteen but Ballina Stephenites, reformed only last year, have been rewarded with no fewer than seven players named among the substitutes.

Throw-in time at Ballina on Sunday is at 2pm.

Mayo (v Wicklow): Bobby Douglas; Michael Gallagher, Daniel Huane, Conor Murray; Brian Hunt, Keith Higgins, Mark Phillips; Paul Kirwan, Sean Kenny; Eoin Delaney, Adrian Phillips, Kieran McDermott; Kealon Gallagher, Aaron Ketterick, Shane Boland (C). Subs: Barry Lane, Ryan Butler, Danny Hill; Jack Trench, James Gallagher, Darren Murray, Brian Peoples, Matthew Walsh, Alan Ferguson, Cian Mulchrone, Conal Hession, Niall Hurley, Nicky Carolan, Eoghan McGrath.

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