It really is great to be back thinking ahead to football games once again. Proper matches, with plenty at stake, even if we’re all going to have to watch the action on TV. At least there will be action to watch and matches to talk about.
Yesterday evening’s Connacht SFC draw started all the talk, as we now have a clear view of the potential road that lies ahead for us in this summer’s defence of the JJ Nestor Cup. It’s worth, then, ruminating a bit on the draw and what it means for us.
The first thing to be said, of course, is that it’s a great draw from our point of view. We were well overdue a draw that kept us apart from both Galway and Roscommon so for it to happen at last was a surprise and a pleasant one at that.
This is all the more so in light of the fact that this year’s Championship is another straight knockout one. Both Galway and Roscommon know that their summer could be a very short one and so both will approach their semi-final meeting with trepidation.
We, on the other hand, can have reasonable expectations about playing three matches in Connacht this summer. Sligo in Markievicz Park isn’t without its dangers but it’s a game we’ll be hotly fancied to win. Whoever does emerge from under Ben Bulben’s head with the spoils will, of course, be strong favourites to take Leitrim and advance to the provincial decider.
This route to the final offers the opportunity to build a bit of momentum, which a crucial ingredient for advancement in a knockout competition. Regardless of who we’d be up against in the Connacht final, if we come into that game with two good wins under our belts we’ll come into it flying.
This is important too in terms of the lifecycle of this team. James blooded loads of players last year and he recently name-checked a fair few more who could come into the reckoning this year. With the glut of retirements back in January, this year’s panel will be a much-altered one and a fair few starting places will be up for grabs. The more games we can get to help fix on a settled fifteen, the better.
That, in turn, lends added weight to the constricted National League campaign that gets underway in less than a month from now. Winning is a habit and it would be ideal for us to come into the Championship off the back of a positive run of matches in the League.
You could mount a reasonably credible argument that the calibre of opposition we’ll face leading into a putative Connacht final would hurt us once we got there. Maybe it would. But then again maybe it wouldn’t.
Given the strange world we inhabit, I’m not sure it makes a blind bit of difference who we’re up against in this year’s League. Would it help us prep better for Championship if we had the likes of, say, Donegal, Tyrone and the Dubs laying into us before then in the League? I’m not convinced it would.
It’s arguably far better for us to be able to use the League as a springboard into the summer campaign, thus enabling us to go into the opening game against Sligo humming nicely. We’ll need to be in good fettle then too. Tony McEntee is no mug – his coaching record is a strong one and he knows plenty about us. He’ll look to make it very hard for us to get past the Yeats County.
But, hey, the feeling will be mutual. We’ll be looking to hit them with everything and do the same to Leitrim and whoever we’d then meet in the final. Not, of course, forgetting that this year the Connacht champions will meet the champions of Leinster in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Now, though, I really am jumping too far ahead. But that’s what happens when your thoughts get fixed on matches that are coming up, all the more so in these pandemic times when we really need something other than Covid to focus on.
So, then, summing it all up yesterday’s draw was an ideal one from our point of view. Now it’s up to us to make the most of the opportunities it affords us for advancement in this year’s Championship.