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Heaney and Nallen call time on their Mayo playing days

MAYO boss John O'Mahony has paid tribute to stellar servants James Nallen and David Heaney, who have both retired from inter-county football.

Nallen, the most capped Mayo footballer of all time with 132 appearances in the green-and-red, informed the manager of his decision on Monday and Heaney followed suit later that night.

"They owe Mayo football nothing. They have been real role models, with huge commitment, huge dedication and huge talent," O'Mahony told the Evening Herald.

"They are two players who deserved All-Ireland medals, but life isn't fair sometimes and they haven't got them."

The twin departures of this thirtysomething duo is no huge surprise - Nallen is now 36 and made his senior debut in a league game against Galway 15 years ago while Heaney, albeit a few years younger, is another veteran whose career has spanned well over a decade.

Ironically, the two players live close to each other in county Galway and both look set to finish off their playing careers with the Claregalway club.

Heaney had his transfer from Swinford rubber-stamped last weekend, while O'Mahony revealed that Nallen is also switching allegiance from his native Crossmolina.

Nallen first caught O'Mahony's eye as a spectator watching the Mayo U21 team that reached the 1994 All-Ireland final, losing to Cork. The sleek centre-back went on to play in five senior deciders, including the ill-fated '96 replay against Meath.



baptism

A year later, the versatile Heaney was also making his senior All-Ireland baptism - the first of three September heartbreaks against Mayo's Kerry nemesis.

The last of those defeats, the crushing '06 collapse, was prematurely viewed by some commentators as a sad swansong for both players. Centre-back Nallen was withdrawn after just 11 minutes at the same time that Heaney was shifted from full-back after an early torching by Kieran Donaghy.

But with O'Mahony's return as manager, this venerable duo defied the sceptics to prolong their careers for another three seasons.

Heaney reverted to old half-back and midfield haunts while Nallen rolled back the clock with some eye-catching displays in the summer of '08.

The latter had a peripheral playing role in '09, making his last appearance as a sub against New York last May, but this two-time All Star will still be fondly recalled as one of Mayo's greatest players of the modern era.

"They hung in there and went the extra mile to make sure they were fit, even though they were not with us over the leagues," O'Mahony recalled.

"They showed real maturity and dedication to the cause - they are certainly added to the list of great players who haven't won All-Ireland medals."

The Mayo boss has finalised an initial panel for the first two league rounds - at home to Galway this Sunday followed by a February 14 trip to Tyrone - but he must plan without a raft of injured and currently absent players.

Barry Moran (ankle ligaments) and Tom Cunniffe (ongoing groin problem) are carrying the most serious knocks; Aidan Kilcoyne (shoulder operation) has resumed running; Pat Harte (work commitments) will be out of the country for the next six weeks; while Conor Mortimer and Alan Dillon are expected back from their travels in mid-February.

COLáISTE EOIN qualified for the Leinster Colleges SFC 'A' semi-finals when they had little difficulty overcoming the combined Dundalk Schools, 2-8 to 0-3, at Seán Moore Park, Ringsend yesterday. Mark Schutte was the top-scorer for Eoin with the powerful wing-forward notching 1-3 from play.


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