The fixtures for this year’s shortened National Football League campaign have finally been released – full details here. None of you need reminding that following our demotion from Division One last year we’re bracketed in Division Two North for 2021, along with Down, Westmeath and Meath.
The Mourne County will be the first team we meet in a competitive match this year. We’re set to face them at MacHale Park on Saturday, 15th May, where throw-in is set for 2pm. The following Saturday, 22nd, we travel to Mullingar for a Round 2 clash against Westmeath at Cusack Park, a match that throws in at 3pm. Our schedule of regulation matches then concludes on Sunday, 22nd May, with another home game. This one is our Round 3 meeting with Meath, which is scheduled to get underway at 1.45pm.
While we met Down as recently as June 2019 in the Championship, prevailing by five points in that nervy Round 2 clash in the qualifiers, we last faced them in the League in April 2016. That was another nervy tussle as it was final round clash at MacHale Park where we needed the points to stay up. We got them, though only after a wobbly enough display.
The most recent time we took on Westmeath was in the Championship in late July 2016. That was a Round 4 qualifier meeting at Croke Park where we came out on top by seven points. Prior to that, we played them in the League at Cusack Park in Mullingar in March 2014 where we came out on top comfortably enough.
We’ve seen a bit of Meath in recent times. Our League meeting in February last year – when we were both in Division One and the Covid crisis hadn’t yet hit – was tight and tense. In near-hurricane weather at Páirc Tailteann we only just about edged it, thanks in large part to a virtuoso goal by Kevin McLoughlin. The same player was to the fore as well when we saw off the Royals by nine points in our Super 8s meeting in the Championship in August 2019.
Two matches at MacHale Park this year gives us an opportunity to improve what is at this stage an embarrassing home record. We lost every match we played there last year, with our most recent win at the venue coming as far back as that totemic Super 8s clash with Donegal the previous August. The most recent time we’ve won there in the League was in back in March that year against Monaghan.
Assuming we get past Sligo in our Connacht SFC quarter-final clash, then we’ll potentially be playing twice at the Castlebar venue in the Championship this year. It would, then, be good for us to start rediscovering once more the habit of winning at home in the League. The Round 1 meeting with Down would be the ideal time to make a positive start along that particular road.
Our NHL Division 2B hurling schedule was also published today. This sees us play Derry in Round 1 (Sunday, 9th May, at MacHale Park, 3pm), Roscommon in Round 2 (Saturday, 15th May, Dr Hyde Park, 2pm), Donegal in Round 3 (Sunday, 23rd May, O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny, 2pm), Round 4 (bye) and Kildare in Round 5 (Saturday, 12th June, MacHale Park, 2pm).