Under 21’s creeping in under the radar

KEY MAN: Mayo Under21's Tom Parsons

KEY MAN: Mayo Under21's Tom Parsons

WITH little in the way of fanfare the Connacht Under 21 championship for 2009 is upon us and Mayo could easily be out of the competition before anyone realises they are actually in it.

Galway travel to Charlestown on Saturday backboned by the 2007 All-Ireland minor winning side and will be confident of making serious progress this year. Not that Mayo will be makeweights for this would appear to be one of the strongest ever Connacht Under 21 championships.

Roscommon will be propped up by the All-Ireland Minor winners of 2006 while we’ll be calling on some of last year’s minors who went oh so close to making it a Connacht three in a row. There are positive soundings coming from Sligo too who, with Leitrim, are on the other side of the draw to the traditional big two and Roscommon.

All of this makes it a mugs game trying to predict who will win the Connacht title. Add in that preparations, from a Mayo point of view at least, have been somewhat haphazard. Sigerson doesn’t help, neither does the Connacht Colleges which kept Aidan O’Shea, John Broderick and Shane Nally busy. To compound matters St Colman’s progress to the All-Ireland semi-final keeps Nally out of action for the under 21’s, where he would have been likely to start at wing-back. However his Colman’s colleague John Broderick has reportedly made himself available.

Then  there are six of the Under 21’s in the current Mayo senior squad (Tom Parsons, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin, Mikey Sweeney, Robert Hennelly and O’Shea) which means Messrs Holmes, Connelly and Collins have struggled to get everyone together in the short period of time they’ve had to prepare for Saturday.

But there is, in my opinion, some serious potential in this Mayo side if they can overcome the obstacles listed above. Robert Hennelly showed us his class last year in goal for the Mayo minors and he will play nets for the 21’s. He’s likely to have familiar company in front of him in the shape of 08 Minor full-back Kevin Keane who impressed so much on Kerry’s vaunted Barry John Walsh in last year’s semi-final draw and replay.

Another Kevin, McLoughlin, made his senior debut last Sunday against Westmeath and this man has all the ability to be a top class corner-back, but is equally adept at wing-back which is where he could feature on Saturday. Another guy to watch is Lee Keegan. He was part of Raymond Dempsey’s minor squad in 2007 but didn’t feature in the panel for the championship defeat to Roscommon.

However much of that can be put down to Keegan’s rugby commitments. The Westport man has been capped at underage level for Ireland and played extensively for Connacht. This year, however, he’s putting Gaelic football first and it would be a Godsend if he continues to do so.

Keegan is a strong, attacking centre-half back and he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Elsewhere in defence we’ve seen plenty of Donal Vaughan this year with the seniors. However that has been mainly at corner-back. Expect to see him line out in his preferred position of wing-back for the 21’s and he’ll be a serious asset for Mayo on Saturday.

Achill’s Michael Gallagher was corner-back for the minors in 07 and will likely nail down that position again, although a switch with Keane to the edge of the square can’t be discounted either.

Its hard to imagine that Tom Parsons is still under 21. He can be a key player here for Mayo and it was great to see him back to something approaching his best form last Sunday after two poor displays in the opening two league games. Mayo will need a big display from him on Saturday with Galway senior star Paul Conroy likely to be their key man in the middle. Conroy is a class act so Parsons will need his A-game.

Beside him we’re likely to see Claremorris’ Brian Gallagher. Gallagher was centre-half forward on the Mayo minor team in 2006 but we heard little about him until he starred last year for Claremorris’ unexpected run to the county semi-final. If Gallagher can maintain that form then we have a formiddable midfield pairing.

Last year’s minors Ger McDonagh and James Cafferty are also serious options here while Jason Gibbons from Ballintubber was in contention prior to injury.

Attack is the hardest line to pre-empt. Aidan O’Shea and Mikey Sweeney are likely to start at centre-half forward and left-corner forward respectively but its hard to say anything after that with certainty. Castlebar’s Neil Douglas will be in the shake-up for a wing-forward spot along with Cathal Freeman while Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty will be competing for the number 14 jersey. Crossmolina’s Cathal Carolan and Ballintubber’s Ray Geraghty are also reported to be going well.

For what its worth there isalightthatnevergoesout anticipates the following fifteen to start on Saturday: Robert Hennelly (Breaffy); John Broderick (Claremorris),  Kevin Keane (Westport), Michael Gallagher (Achill); Kevin McLoughlin (Knockmore), Lee Keegan (Westport), Donal Vaughan (Ballinrobe); Tom Parsons (Charlestown), Brian Gallagher (Claremorris); Cathal Carolan (Crossmolina), Aidan O’Shea (Breaffy), Neil Douglas (Castlebar); Ray Geraghty (Ballintubber), Jason Doherty (Burrishoole), Mikey Sweeney (Kiltane).

 

Mayo's joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes will be hoping for more celebrations.

Mayo's joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes will be hoping for more celebrations.

All in all we’ll know a lot more on Saturday evening than we do now. With preparation problems evident, the importance of good management is key. Holmes, Connelly and Collins have always had their teams ready, despite what obstacles have stood in front of them, since they took over in 2006. This has been underlined by three Connacht titles in a row. A fourth would be their most significant provincial title yet. Here’s hoping.

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