by Cliona Foley
MAYO could be without a handful of first-choice starters when they face All-Ireland champions Kerry in their Allianz League opener in a fortnight.
It will be the sides’ first meeting since their epic two-game tussle in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, which climaxed in that thrilling extra-time replay in Limerick.
Mayo’s new joint-manager Pat Holmes has admitted that the Connacht champions, who suffered a shock defeat to Roscommon in the FBD League last weekend, could be missing a handful of their most experienced men for the big re-match.
“Aidan O’Shea is still a bit away and Ger Cafferkey has a back strain,” Holmes said, describing the likelihood of having either as “50-50 at this stage”.
The Westerners will definitely be without former captain Andy Moran and Alan Dillon for another month.
One good bit of news is that new captain Keith Higgins is expected to make his return next weekend, but perhaps the most galling and costly absentee will be Cillian O’Connor.
He hasn’t played with Mayo yet this year because he was college-tied with UUJ, where he is doing post-grad studies.
But the Ballintubber All Star will miss Mayo’s league opener because he was sent off in the late stages of that All-Ireland semi-final replay as his red card carries over into this season.
Losing to Roscommon in Castlebar last Sunday – the first time they’d lost a senior game to the Rossies in MacHale Park since 1986 – has created worries about Mayo’s readiness for the NFL.
Holmes, though, is determined do well in the league.
“It’s the second most important competition in the GAA calendar so of course we’ll be going out to win every game,” he said.
Elsewhere, Liam Lawlor (29), part of the Waterford football team that shocked Cork last weekend to reach the McGrath Cup final, said he is delighted to have been recalled by new manager Tom McGlinchey.
His last championship appearance for the Deise footballers was in 2009. He won a Munster hurling title a year later but was not part of either panel last year.
But, on his return, he played the key play-making role when they beat Cork last week for the first time since 1960.
“I love the county jersey and I will never turn down the opportunity. I was over the moon when Tom rang me to represent the county again,” Lawlor said.
Waterford play UCC in Saturday’s McGrath Cup final, hoping to maintain their unbeaten run ahead of their Division 4 campaign which will open against Wicklow.