Saturday 17 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Once more with heart for Mayo's ambitious old guard'

Heavy workload continues for the elder statesmen central to Horan's squad

Senior figure: Aidan O’Shea is one of seven Mayo players on the panel since 2009. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Senior figure: Aidan O’Shea is one of seven Mayo players on the panel since 2009. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Mayo's old gunslingers are back in town and shooting for survival. It's serious now because defeat against Meath would almost certainly eliminate them from the All-Ireland championship and also cast doubts about the future of several players.

Of all counties, Mayo have by far the highest number of thirtysomethings, with seven on board for a decade or more. It would probably be eight if Tom Parsons (31), who made his debut in 2009, had not sustained a serious injury against Galway last year.

Chris Barrett (32) and Seamus O'Shea (32) made their championship debuts in 2010, with Lee Keegan (29), Jason Doherty (29) and Robert Hennelly (29) coming in a year later.

The age profile of the squad increases the pressure to deliver in what may be the last season for many of them, but the task has been made all the more difficult by their hectic schedule, which was precipitated by their failure to win the Connacht title.

Next Sunday brings Mayo's fifth game in 29 days, a heavy workload for any squad, let alone an ageing one.

This will be Mayo's first championship clash with Meath since the 2009 quarter-final, which they lost, with most of the following on board.

KEITH HIGGINS

Age: 34

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Championship debut: 2005

Already in his fifth season at the age of 24 in 2009, he had a tough time in his direct marking job on David Bray, who scored 1-3 from play. However, as has happened so often since then, Higgins didn't allow that to restrict the more adventurous side of his game and he improved significantly in the second half, making several penetrating runs and scoring a point.

DONAL VAUGHAN

Age: 30

Championship debut: 2009

Three months into his championship career, the then 20-year-old Ballinrobe man was at right full-back against Meath, where he found Brian Farrell a very difficult opponent. Farrell scored three points from play before Vaughan was replaced by Liam O'Malley in the third quarter.

"Muscled off the ball by his strong, fast opponent, Vaughan never dominated his position. Doesn't really look like a corner-back," was the assessment in the 'Western People'.

He hasn't spent much time in No 2 territory since then, but his versatility has taken him to a wide variety of other areas.

ANDY MORAN

Age: 35

Championship debut: 2004

How many remember that John O'Mahony played Moran at left half-back in the 2009 championship? It was a 'one-season-only' experiment and he was back in attack in 2010. He did well enough against Meath in the 2009 quarter-final, but it was still a case of a poacher forced into a game-keeping job. It's some achievement to be still involved 15 years after making his championship debut.

Replaced in the first half against Armagh in Round 3 of the qualifiers, he didn't start against Galway and came on a sub against Kerry last Sunday, scoring two points.

AIDAN O'SHEA

Age: 29

Championship debut: 2009

He celebrated his 19th birthday in 2009, a few days after completing his Leaving Cert and the following month he won his first Connacht title in the full-forward line. He also played there against Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final, scoring 1-1 before being injured late on.

"One of the most exciting players in the county, he has the potential to dominate Mayo football in the coming decade," declared the 'Western People'.

He has certainly been an influential figure, but there has always been a doubt about his best position. That doubt still persists this season, where he has been mostly at midfield.

DAVID CLARKE

Age: 35

Championship debut: 2005

He played in the Connacht SFC first round against New York 10 years ago, but the rest of his season was disrupted by injury issues and he was replaced in goal by Kenneth O'Malley. It's 17 years since he made his Mayo debut in a National League game against Kildare and 14 years since he played his first championship game.

KEVIN McLOUGHLIN

Age: 30

Championship debut: 2009

How many remember that he made his Mayo debut at left corner-back in the first round of the 2009 Connacht Championship? It didn't work and he was a sub for the rest of the year. He played at No 7 in 2010 before moving to the half-forwards in 2011, James Horan's first season as manager.

COLM BOYLE

Age: 32

Championship debut: 2008

He made his debut 11 years ago; however, he didn't feature in 2010 or 2011, but returned in 2012 and has been a major figure in defence ever since, winning All-Star awards in 2013, '14, '16 and '17.

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