The weekend off is now behind us and so, once again, it’s all systems go ahead of a big Mayo match at the weekend. Our Round 4 game in this year’s National League is against Monaghan at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones on Sunday. Throw-in is 2pm and Wicklow’s Anthony Nolan is the ref.
Although the Farney lads – with Banty McEnaney back in the saddle on the sideline for them this year – have been garnering plenty of praise for their performances so far in this year’s League, both of us head into this game with the same number of points in the bag. That said, while we can count ourselves a tad fortunate to have our three points on the board, they’re probably ruing the fact that – given their fine form this spring – they don’t have one or two more racked up at this stage.
As Mike Finnerty noted on the podcast (which, if you haven’t listened to it yet, is here), Monaghan are flying fit already and fielding their strongest possible team. The football they’re playing is close to Championship standard – the League has, in recent years, all but become Championship football in colder weather – and, as they showed against Dublin in Croke Park the weekend before last, they don’t fear anyone right now.
There’s been a good bit of media coverage out there on Sunday’s game. This piece in The 42 with Darren Hughes – back in action again following a long lay-off through injury last year – gives a useful insight to where Monaghan are at heading into Clones this weekend. The Irish Times have a similar piece – that’s here.
As he reveals in those interviews, Keith has had a few niggly injuries but he’s hoping to play a part in Sunday’s game. It’s good to have him back too because we’re set to be without several regulars once again this weekend.
On the plus side, Oisín Mullin (on U20 duty the last day), Jordan Flynn (suspended) and Padraig O’Hora (ill) should all be on the bus to Clones. Darren Coen – who was in the match-day panel in Navan but didn’t feature – will also be pushing for inclusion, as will Eoghan McLaughlin, who made his League debut off the bench against Meath the last day.
But, as the Mayo News (paper and digital variants) reports this week, Championship regulars Cillian O’Connor, Donal Vaughan and Matthew Ruane remain sidelined. In addition, Tom Parsons is nursing a hamstring strain while Jason Doherty is still on his long-term comeback from the cruciate injury he picked up last summer. Colm Boyle is almost certainly out for the year as well, with what has been described as a serious knee injury.
The bottom line, then, is that this is a match between a settled, fit-in-February outfit and one in which experimentation is, by necessity, the norm rather than the exception. While one may tut-tut on the long-term advisability of having a team firing on all cylinders this early in the year – that movie has been viewed widely in places like Kildare and Roscommon in recent years – this won’t help our cause on Sunday.
It’s going to be a battle for us to come away with a result from this one. But let’s end these thoughts on the game with this positive one, also from the Mayo News (here), which is that our away record in the League in the last three years is rather good. Indeed, if you discount our annual League losses to Dublin (both the 2017 and the 2019 ones were at Croke Park) the only other away game we’ve lost in the League since 2017 was the one against Galway at Pearse Stadium in 2018.
The match in Clones isn’t, of course, the only Mayo match on this weekend. At the same time as the big ball is being thrown in at St Tiernach’s Park on Sunday, the sliothair will be tossed in at MacHale Park where the county’s hurlers will face the might of Offaly in Division 2A of the NHL.
That same start time on Sunday also applies to the women’s footballers. While the task they face in the LGFA NFL Division One isn’t as daunting as the hurlers’ it’s still as tough one, as they travel to play top-of-the-table Cork. The venue for that match is Cloughduv Hurling Grounds in Cork.
There’ll be more on all three matches, including team news, ahead of Sunday.