Mayo captain Cillian O’Connor insists they’ll be gunning for Allianz League success, despite Chris Barrett’s assertion it will be “next to impossible” to win it.
Last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists are third favourites with bookmakers to win this year’s league and strip Kerry of their crown.
Mayo haven’t won the league since 2001 and All-Star defender Barrett told the Mayo News that, for various reasons, it’s almost certain they won’t end that long wait in 2018.
“In terms of the league, I think it’s next to impossible for Mayo to target the league and really focus on winning it, especially after getting to an All-Ireland final the previous year,” said Barrett.
“You go on a holiday in January, we don’t get back until the second week of January, and it’s really only then you can start training in earnest. Add in the logistics issues, with a third of the squad in Dublin during the week, and you can see why targeting the league is something that is tough for us.
“Obviously we target certain games and have certain aspects of our game that we look to improve on and work on, but it’s more about getting the right structures in place for the championship.”
Mayo have typically started league campaigns slowly — losing to Monaghan and Kerry initially last year — before coming good with enough points to avoid relegation.
They remain the longest-serving team in Division 1, despite those slow starts.
“It has followed that pattern alright, but it’s never been mapped out that way,” said O’Connor. “It’s never been planned out to stay up on the last day by a point!
“It’s a manager’s prerogative, but you probably want to strike a balance between trying to find new faces, blood them, give them a chance to play with more experienced players and feel comfortable, find a few other options for later in the year and at the same time be as competitive as you can in every game and get the points you need.
“Ultimately, it’s about trying to win every match. We still are trying to win every match. There’s never a case where we say: ‘This one doesn’t matter.’ It’ll be the same this year, we’ve seven games and we want to try to win every one.
“Also, while doing that, players will be given opportunities.”
Mayo used 30 players in last year’s league, but that figure could be higher this time with Lee Keegan (hip), Barrett (knee), Donie Vaughan (hip) and Seamus O’Shea (knee) out for long spells, opening the door for newcomers.
“There are definitely going to be opportunities,” said O’Connor.
“That is the one positive of these games, you get a chance to throw lads in and see how they go, do they sink or swim. With those few injuries that we have, and three or four lads returning at different stages during the league, we are going to need lads to step up and, in fairness, they are relishing it. From talking to a good few of them, they want to grab a jersey and hold onto it.”
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