Hot on the heels of this year’s shortened National League campaign we’re now pitched straight into the Championship. Today the first shots of the summer season are set to be fired and our lads are in Connacht SFC action this afternoon against Sligo at Markievicz Park (throw-in 4.30pm).
There’s an element of back to the future in this year’s Championship. Like last year the straight knockout format is necessitated due to time pressures arising from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic but this year at least the matches are being played in high summer.
A Connacht Championship played in June and July, in which one false step sees you idle for the summer, certainly has an old-time feel to it. Hopefully, though, having now seen the old format at close quarters once again, the dewy-eyed nostalgia for it will finally be put to bed once and for all.
A major downside of the knockout system is that it means several counties’ involvement in the Championship only lasts for one day. That’s the fate awaiting whoever comes out the wrong side of this afternoon’s match at Markievicz Park, a tie that must – even if it means extra-time and, if necessary, a penalty shootout – produce a winner on the day.
Let’s cut to the chase: it’s all but impossible to see anything other than a win for us today. A yawning gap exists between the two teams and while we’ll miss Cillian O’Connor badly this summer we still have plenty of talent in our ranks to prevail comfortably enough today.
That said, we still have to go out and win today. That means we need to put in a strong, committed performance and make sure that Sligo aren’t given any encouragement about pulling off a shock victory. We need to do our business today in a calm, controlled and efficient manner.
Two things are especially important for us today. First is our defensive structure, concerns about which have been mounting as the League campaign has progressed. We conceded seven goals in four matches against modest enough Division Two opposition – every one of them preventible – and we simply have to do better today.
When I was listening to the podcast the other day and Mike asked Kevin McStay what was the ideal score we’d like to limit Sligo to, a total of eleven points immediately popped into my head. That was the answer Kevin gave too and he added that we should only be conceding points, the bulk of them from frees. No goals, he cautioned. Amen to that.
The second thing we need to do in this game is show that we have an attacking strategy that can work for us in Cillian’s absence. Losing him is a huge, crippling blow but it’s our reality for 2021 and we have to plan accordingly.
While it’d be asking asking a bit to expect to see a fully-formed alternative attacking approach firing on all cylinders today, it would be good to see the broad shape of what we’re aiming to do. As well as a coherent approach to free-taking in the master’s absence.
Providing we get those two things right then I think we should have a fairly productive day today. Assuming all goes well in this one we should then be able to hone our approach against Leitrim before facing either Galway or Roscommon in the Connacht final in a month’s time.
But let’s not be getting ahead of ourselves. Today is a knockout Championship tie so we need to stay focused on what we need to do today, even if in doing so we’re making plans for likely bigger challenges to come. If the bulk of our preparation for this game is geared towards the former – and I think it will be – then we should be okay this afternoon.
The best of luck to James and his team as we set out on another Championship campaign. And good luck too to the hurlers who get their Rackard Cup campaign underway against Donegal this afternoon.
Two Mayo wins would be nice today, here’s hoping that’s what’s in store for the county later on. Let’s get to work. Up Mayo.