Class of 2006 graduating well

CHAMPIONS AT LAST: Keith Higgins becomes the first Mayo man to lift an All-Ireland since Michael Fitzmaurice in 1985, after Mayo won the 2006 All-Ireland Under 21 title.

CHAMPIONS AT LAST: Keith Higgins becomes the first Mayo man to lift an All-Ireland since Michael Fitzmaurice in 1985, after Mayo won the 2006 All-Ireland Under 21 title.

VICTORY on Saturday will secure a four in a row of Connacht titles, thanks to a run that started in 2006. That year we went onto win the All-Ireland and, three years on, a look back at that team shows that the class of 2006 was a productive vintage for John O’Mahony.

We’ll go through the team player by player, an old fashioned ‘where are they now’? and give them a progress rating from 1-5 on how they have done at inter-county level since.

Quite an undertaking but TIALTNGO has had a quiet day on the work front so here’s the fruits of my labour. NB: A big thank you to Willie Joe at for his priceless results archive which I referenced several times for this.


Goalkeeper: Kenneth O’Malley (Ballinrobe). The 2006 campaign was O’Malley’s first in Mayo colours since playing Ted Webb (U-16) as an outfielder. The interim period was taken up with a promising soccer career and his addition to the Mayo U-21s was a massive boost.

Played with composure and confidence all through and went onto make his senior championship debut in the ill-fated defeat to Galway in 2007. A horrendous kidney injury later that year nearly saw the end of O’Malley’s Mayo career but he is back this year on the Mayo panel, playing under David Clarke.

Progress rating: 3

Right-corner back: Trevor Howley (Knockmore). AS teak tough as they come, 2006 was Howley’s last year underage after playing in the 2004 final defeat to Armagh and he won a lot of fans during the campaign for his robust and powerful style of defending.


Started the first two NFL games under Mickey Moran in ’06 and made his championship debut when he came on for Aidan Higgins in the All-Ireland quarter final draw against Laois. His championship starting debut arrived against Cavan in the 2007 qualifiers, Howley picked at corner-back. He looked a real contender for the number 6 jersey in 2008 until injury intervened. He is only coming back from another injury now but is still being linked with centre-half back.

Progress rating: 4



Full-back: Ger Cafferkey (Ballina). One of five players that lost the All-Ireland Minor final in 2005 who would go onto start in the U-21 final the following spring, Cafferkey is someone highly rated by all who had him at underage. Formed the centre of a very strong full-back line for Holmes and Connelly in 2006 and seldom put a foot out of place.


Since then he has been spoken of the next Mayo senior full-back but has only had an opportunity to prove his worth this year due to injury and not being picked. Has played every NFL game this season wearing number 3 and is pretty much nailed on to be there for championship.

Progress rating: 4


Left-corner back: Keith Higgins (Ballyhaunis). The closest player on the U-21 team to the finished article at the time, Higgins was an inspirational captain who always did his job in the corner before often bombing forward to augment Mayo’s attack when the need arose.


Higgins had come onto the senior panel in 2005 (having opted out of county football in 2004) and it was no surprise that he started for Mayo in their opening round win over Roscommon on June 19. Would star for Mayo en route to the  senior All-Ireland in ’06 and ended that year with the Young Player of the Year award. Continued his rise in 07 and 08 and is expected back to the Mayo squad soon after a break in Australia. Arguably the U-21’s best player.

Progress rating: 5


Right-half back: Chris Barrett (Belmullet): The second of the Minor 5 of ’05, Barrett is another who has been cursed with injury. He fitted in quickly with this U-21 team and was utterly convincing at wing-back.


Captained Mayo U-21s to Connacht success in 2008 and had featured regularly in that year’s NFL before injury kept him away from the championship squad. Just back from that groin injury now and will be hoping for a run at his preferred wing-back position, instead of corner-back where he has been shoe-horned thus far (actually marking Gooch Cooper in his ’09 comeback).

Progress rating: 3


Centre-half back: Tom Cunniffe (Castlebar Mitchels). Cunniffe’s progress up to All-Ireland U-21 winner and since has been nothing short of phenomenal. Not able to make the Castlebar U-16 side in 2002, he played with the club’s U-16 B team but three short years later he was marking current AFL star Marty Clarke in an All-Ireland minor final and holding the centre of defence a few months later as Mayo stormed to All-Ireland glory.


His senior debut was out of the blue too. Having not even played league, he made his senior championship debut off the bench in the 2007 qualifier against Cavan and started at corner-back against Derry the next day out. He was played at corner-back mainly during the 2008 NFL before playing wing-back against Sligo and Galway in that year’s Connacht championship before finding himself at full-back on Sean Cavanagh in the qualifier defeat to Tyrone.

This year he has been played solely at his preferred position of centre-half back but it is not certain yet where he will feature in championship.

Progress rating: 4.


Left-half back: Colm Boyle (Davitts). Boyle was unfortunate in the final as he had to mark Fintan Goold and the major height difference was a problem as Cork rained kick-outs on top of the duo. The result was Boyle was taken off at half-time. But he had a good run during the championship.


Boyle has suffered bad luck at senior level too – another victim of the ‘square peg, round hole’ syndrome which has seen several wing-backs tried in the corner. Boyle did well during the end of the ’08 league in the corner and so started there for championship. But he was taken off in the first half of the Connacht final after both he and Kieran Conroy were threading water in unfamiliar positions. A member of the squad this year but hasn’t got as much game time as he would have hoped.

Progress rating: 2

Midfield: Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels). Moran, like Keith Higgins, went into the U-21 season with championship experience from 2005 behind him. That was when Moran started against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, becoming the youngest player to start championship for Mayo since Ciaran McDonald.


Moran had starred for the Mayo U-21s while still a minor in 2004 and he was inspirational in the 2006 final, finishing just behind Aidan Kilcoyne for Man of the Match. Moran lorded midfield but, as well all know, he has had an injury ravaged career since.

He looked like the future at full-forward for Mayo after impressive performances in the qualifiers against Cavan and Derry in 2007 but injury saw him lose the number 14 jersey to Austin O’Malley in 2008. He started this year’s NFL at full-forward with very good games against Derry and Donegal but injury got in the way again. Time will tell if we see him on the edge of the square in championship ’09.

Progress rating: 4

Midfield: Seamus O’Shea (Breaffy). O’Shea went from not starting the Minor All-Ireland final in 2005 (he was back from injury but management decided against starting him) to starring in an U-21 final some months later. After a poor first half, O’Shea was outstanding in the second half, winning the crucial penalty and one of the driving forces for victory.


Another player to have constant injury trouble, he has yet to make his senior championship debut but did start the first two NFL games last year. Still part of the panel and the feeling is his robust style could have plenty to offer Mayo if he can stay injury free.

Progress rating: 3


Right-half forward: Aidan Campbell (Swinford). The Minor captain from 2005 was one of Mayo’s classy forwards en route to U-21 success and looked a huge prospect.


However he was dropped ahead of last year’s U-21 All-Ireland semi-final due to a discipline breach and is not currently a member of the Mayo senior squad. Made his championship debut against Derry in the 2007 qualifier against Derry, where he was brought on before being taken off again, rather harshly. His name is likely to be one we will hear about again though.

Progress rating: 2



Centre-half forward: Joe Dillon (Ballaghaderreen). The fact that his club colleague Barry Kelly opted out of the U-21s to concentrate on studies meant Dillon was the only Ballagh’ man involved and did a reasonable job at centre-half forward.


However he had a poor final and was taken off early in the second half. That was his last year U-21 and he hasn’t featured for Mayo since. Was part of the Ballagh’ team who won the county title in 2008.

Progress rating: 1




Left-half forward: Aidan Kilcoyne (Knockmore). In his first year out of minor Kilcoyne starred at U-21 level as Mayo fell just short. He was the single biggest reason why Mayo went one step further in the 2006 final. Arguably his best ever display in a Mayo jersey, Kilcoyne kicked 1-6 and was nearly unerring in his accuracy. Deservedly won the Man of the Match and performed very well off the bench for the seniors later that year.


Has yet been able to hold down anything resembling a first team place and while he is still part of the senior panel, the widespread feeling is that ‘Killer’ hasn’t yet delivered on his potential.

Progress rating: 3




Right-corner forward: Mark Ronaldson (Shrule/Glencorrib). The pocket rocket was one of Mayo’s most consistent forwards, nearly always getting the better of his man and arguably the most underrated player in Mayo’s success.


A phenomenal underage player, ‘Ronnie’ saw his minor county career end while he watched injured as Galway robbed the 2004 minors with an injury time goal but he had an altogether better outcome in 2006.

Played off the bench for the NFL campaigns of 07 and 08 but only made his debut from the start this year. However four very impressive displays in a row mean Ronaldson could easily be on the starting fifteen in championship. What position is an altogether different matter though.

Progress rating: 4


Full-forward: Marcus Hannick (Killala). Hannick was another player, like Dillon, who didn’t have a great final but had been a good performer up to that. Has since played Mayo juniors and played in two All-Ireland Junior club semi-finals for Killala.


But has not yet featured for Mayo at senior level. Could be worthy of a run in next year’s FBD if his club form stays constant.

Progress rating: 1.


Left-corner forward: Michael Conroy (Davitts). While his cousin Keith Higgins and Barry Moran had championship experience from 2005, Conroy had played as far back as the 2004  All-Ireland Senior final, scoring 1-1 against Kerry.


That was his first year out of minor and, on a day when most things went wrong, Conroy’s display was a bright light.

He was an ace forward for Mayo in their U-21 win, including an impressive display in the final but his last championship start for Mayo came later that year in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. His last start was the ’07 NFL final against Donegal and he unfortunately falls under the category ‘unfulfilled potential’ but is still a talented club player.

Progress rating: 2


Sean Ryder (Castlebar Mitchels): Ryder came on for Colm Boyle at half-time and was heroic in the second half.


That was his last year underage and while he hasn’t featured much for Mayo since, he has been a consistent star for Castlebar Mitchels.

Progress rating: 1





Kevin Costello (Carramore): Costello came on and impressed heavily in the second half.

Costello (on left) in action for the Irish U-17 Compromise Rules team.

Costello (on left) in action for the Irish U-17 Compromise Rules team.

With his club stuck in Junior football there has been little chance for him to impress since but he has played for Mayo juniors.

Progress rating: 1



Enda Varley (Garrymore): Varley was superb when he came on, providing a real threat in the full-forward line and involved in several key scores.


Amazingly has not been given much of a chance with  the Mayo Seniors, despite starring for University of Limerick in the Sigerson Cup up to and including this year. A prolific club player, we might see him feature for Mayo soon.

Progress rating: 2

As we can see quite a lot of progression from that team with ten of those who played currently on the Senior panel and Keith Higgins due back soon as well. Should we get past Sligo on Saturday, we’ll have a look of the class of 2004 ahead of the semi-final, where there’s more of a fall-off.


5 Responses to “Class of 2006 graduating well”

  1. 1 albany April 2, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Wow TIALTNGO thats some piece of work fair play to you. Its always interesting to look back even after a short few years and see the progression or otherwise of young players amazing the number of lads plagued by injury T Howley B Moran K O’Malley C Barrett S O’Shea is this from overexposure at too young an age.Hard to know A Campbell for me is still a great prospect and I would hope to see him taken on board and managed to bring him on in attitude he has the ability I have a banana skin feeling about sat I hope the lads have too.. if so the wont slip on it.

  2. 2 thereisalightthatnevergoesout April 2, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Yeah I hope the heads are right for Saturday Albany because Sligo are no bad team this year. Mayo would not want to start thinking they’ve the hard work done by beating Galway and Ros.
    Regarding the injuries for the lads, Chris Barrett and Seamus O’Shea have had continuous groin injuries, for which a lot is to do with too much training. Kenny O’Malley just got a freak injury (he lost a kidney after getting a nasty kick) while Barry Moran and Trevor Howley may just be players who are a bit injury prone in my opinion, particularly Moran.

  3. 3 Jimmy April 5, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Great piece of work. The class of 2006 have progressed very well and are fast becoming stalwards of the senior set up.


    • 4 thereisalightthatnevergoesout April 6, 2009 at 6:11 pm

      Yeah Jimmy I reckon our championship fifteen could have eight players from the 2006 U-21s or younger. Howley, Higgins, Cunniffe, Moran, Ronaldson, Parsons, McLoughlin, Cafferkey are all in with a great shout of starting.
      Its also interesting to note that that U-21 side wasn’t highly rated at the time but winning is great for a player’s development.

  1. 1 Green and Red » U21s aiming for provincial four-in-a-row Trackback on April 2, 2009 at 9:49 am

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