Speaking with Ed McGreal of the Mayo News after Sunday’s draw with IT Sligo, Johnno admitted that the FBD was never a target for us this season (when has it ever been?) but neither has it been used for the kind of widespread experimentation that we’ve witnessed in recent years. Instead, the secondary provincial tournament is, he says, being used to get us prepared for the start of the league.
In that sense, our use of the FBD is no different than in previous years but the decision to field more experienced campaigners so far this year would indicate a desire to hit the ground running at the start of this year’s NFL. Last year, the lassitude we showed in our opening league match, against Derry in Ballina, bordered on the alarming and it was only after half-time in the next match, away to Donegal, when the team finally came to life. Our league form thereafter was, like the year before, fairly mediocre but we did manage to do enough to retain our Division 1 status.
Maybe this is what’s on Johnno mind now because this year’s Division 1 campaign is likely to be tougher than it was in 2008 or 2009 and the fact that (once again) four of our seven matches are away from home will mean that league points won’t come cheaply. We have to play Tyrone, Derry, Cork and Kerry away and even the county’s most optimistic supporter would be hard-pressed to see us coming home with a bagful of points from these encounters. Seen in this light, wins in our three home games are an absolute must and the first one of these is against Joe Kernan’s Galway the weekend after next.
Up till last year, Johnno’s Second Coming record against the county he’d twice led to Sam was poor enough but the league win in Tuam at the end of March and the dramatic Connacht final victory Pearse Stadium in July changed all that. Now, with another All-Ireland winner prowling the sideline for the Herrin Chokers, Johnno will, no doubt, be keen to show his new opponent who is top dog in this neck of the woods. Hence, perhaps, all those barbs about unnamed counties flouting the training ban. And hence, too, the decision to use the FBD as a launch-pad for the league and not, as in previous years, as an outlet for fringe players to get a run-out in the county jersey.
Had the match against Galway gone ahead under lights the weekend after next, it would, I’m sure, have been quite a spectacle to witness. The shapes that Johnno has been throwing ahead of this fixture would, however, suggest that we might instead be in for some Sunday afternoon fireworks when we square up to the neighbours at McHale Park on the 7th February.