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Mayo hurlers aiming to bounce back in 2024 

Newly appointed Mayo hurling team joint-manager, Ray Larkin. 

Newly appointed Mayo hurling team joint-manager, Ray Larkin. 

By John Harrington

After a disappointing 2023 season that saw them becalmed in Division 3A in the Allianz Hurling League and relegated from the Christy Ring Cup a year after contesting a final, 2024 brings renewed optimism for Mayo hurling.

The appointment of Ray Larkin and Brian Finn as joint-managers of is the source of much of that positivity.

Larkin is a proven winner having managed Tooreen to five Connacht Intermediate Hurling Championships in six years.

And no-one has a better knowledge of the emerging generation of young hurlers in the county than Finn who has managed the Mayo U-17 Celtic Challenge team and Mayo U-20 team for the past two years.

The duo have assembled a very impressive backroom team with former Galway hurler Nigel Shaughnessy and former Sligo hurling manager, Pádraig Mannion, on the ticket as coaches.

Shaughnessy has an impressive coaching CV that includes stints with Na Piarsaigh in Limerick and Clarinbridge and Killimordaly and Clarinbridge in Galway, while Mannion steered the Sligo hurlers to consecutive promotions in 2020 and 2021.

“We're trying to turn things around this year and the players have really taken on board what our two coaches are trying to do in terms of the training and the game-plan,” Larkin told GAA.ie.

“The response has been very positive and the intensity of training has gone up in the last couple of weeks since the Tooreen lads have started to come back in.

“They've really upped the ante and the rest of the players have seen that they need to push on in order to get to the level that they're at.

“Nigel and Padraig are excellent coaches and are really bouncing well off each other and it’s great to have the two of them on board.

“They have their own different styles of training so having the two of them working together is great

“Brian has worked with a lot of the lads on the panel at U-20 level for the past couple of years and when you combine that with the experience I have with the Tooreen players you’d hope there’s a strong line there.”

Ballyvary's Jack Doocey is one of a number of young players from junior clubs who have been drafted into the Mayo senior panel this year. 

Ballyvary's Jack Doocey is one of a number of young players from junior clubs who have been drafted into the Mayo senior panel this year. 

There have been lots of encouraging green shoots in Mayo hurling in recent years.

Clubs like Caiseal Gaels, Ballyvary, and Claremorris have built themselves up from underage level to complete the player pathway and play adult hurling, Moytura and Ballina Stephenites are fielding teams again at adult level again having not done so for years, and the newly formed Gaeltacht Iorrais have brought hurling back to the Belmullet region again.

Last year the establishment of the St. Ciaran’s amalgamated hurling team gave players from junior clubs like Moytura, Ballina, Ballyvary, Caiseal Gaels, Westport, Claremorris, and Gaeltacht Iorrais the opportunity to play senior club hurling, and the benefits of that are already being seen.

The Mayo panel that beat Rosommon in the Connacht Hurling League semi-final in January included 12 players from those junior clubs, and Larkin hopes that being exposed to inter-county hurling will further accelerate their development.

“We've brought in a good few players from junior clubs into the county panel and you'd like to think that the experience of working with the likes of Nigel and Padraig and picking up a few drills, when they go back to their own clubs they can implement them there as well,” he says.

“By the time they've come through a full League and championship programme with the county team you'd be hopeful it will have brought them on an awful lot and they'll be able to make a big contribution when they go back to their clubs in June.

“They should be in great shape by then after having plenty of match experience in high-intensity games and will bring that back to their own clubs.

"Tooreen has put Mayo hurling on the map in the last few years and I think what we’re seeing now is a lot of the smaller clubs looking on and saying, ‘well, if Tooreen can do it then why can't we?’

The Mayo hurling tribe is a small but enthusiastic one. Larkin hopes if they can start the season on the front foot by beating Armagh in Hastings MacHale Park and get the county’s supporters behind them, they can challenge for silverware in the League and Nickey Rackard Cup.

“Mayo county hurling is maybe a bit low after being relegated from the Christy Ring last year but if we can get over on Sunday and get a bit of momentum behind us and get the crowds coming back in again, then it would be great for hurling in the county,” he says.

“It would be massive if we could get to a League Final and have something to build on. We'd also hope that if we can stay injury-free and have a good League then we could build on that in the championship.

"There's a good buzz in the dressing-room room. David Kenny and Adrian Phillips are our two captains and two outspoken players who are driving things on.

“So far it's been really good so hopefully we can keep building."