James Horan hopes to unearth a few nuggets against NUIG

Mayo spent last week in Dubai and can’t wait to get their campaign up and running

From the sandy beaches of Dubai to the wet fields of MacHale Park in less than 48 hours. It may not be the ideal way to break into the new football season, but for beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo it's exactly what they've been waiting for.

Ever since losing to Dublin last September the feeling has been that the new season couldn’t come around quick enough: now, starting with this evening’s re-fixed FBD League first round game against NUIG, comes the chance to begin again.

James Horan's team spent the last week in Dubai, some just reward for making the All-Ireland final showdown against Dublin, only returning on Wednesday evening. That meant refixing their first game in the FBD League, and also means they'll be out again on Sunday in round two, when they also host Sligo IT, at Charlestown.

Like last year, winning this competition is far from the priority, although Horan outlined his plans to use a range of new players for the three games – including several of Mayo’s All-Ireland-winning minors from last summer, who at least ensured that particular famine didn’t last any longer.


Among those Horan is expected to give a run over the coming games are 2013 minors Diarmuid O'Connor, Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus, and also under-21 standout Adam Gallagher. It has also been agreed that Eoghan O'Reilly and Tom King, both part of the Castlebar Mitchells team currently preparing for their All-Ireland club semi-final against Dr Crokes of Killarney on February 15th, will be released for FBD League duty.

A few additions
Horan, ideally, hopes to uncover a few additions to his league panel, especially "three to five players that will stand up and push for a place over the course of the year" – although that will mean dropping certain players from his 2013 panel, given the fact there haven't been any retirements, at least not yet, anyway.

"You can expect to see an array of new talent in the first couple of FBD games", Horan told the Mayo News, ahead of this evening's game in Castlebar (7.45). "The aim for the FBD is to find three to five players that will stand up and push for a place over the course of the year."

Mayo begin their Allianz Football League Division One campaign on Sunday, February away to Kildare, a team already showing some impressive pre-season form, with two wins from two in the O'Byrne Cup, under new manager Jason Ryan: in fact wins over Athlone IT and Longford in the opening two rounds means Kildare are already through to the semi-finals no matter what happens in their final Group B game against Carlow this Sunday.

It's still all to play for in the other three groups: in Group D, the winners of Dublin and DCU will make the semi-finals, and likewise the winners of Meath and Wicklow in Group C, while all four teams in Group A – UCD, Wexford, Laois and Offaly – still have a chance of making the semi-finals.

First competitive outing
Also re-fixed for this evening is the first round of the Waterford Crystal Cup, with Limerick taking on Tralee IT at Rathkeale (7.30pm).

It’s the game that marks the first competitive outing for new joint Limerick hurling managers Donal O’Grady and TJ Ryan. There are nine new additions to the senior set-up, although some of those included are currently sidelined with injury, such as Declan Hannon (ankle) and Seamus Hickey and Paudie Aherne (both cruciate ligament tears).

New Cork football manager Brian Cuthbert has also named his team for Sunday's semi-final of the McGrath Cup against the University of Limerick - making four changes from the team that beat Limerick IT last weekend: both dual players Eoin Cadogan (study leave) and Aidan Walsh (holidays) are absent, while Ken O'Halloran returns between the posts. Tomás Clancy, Micheál Ó Laoire and Paul Kerrigan also get outfield positions.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics