After seven months waiting, we have at last a Mayo match to look forward to later on today. MacHale Park is the venue for our opening round game in Division One of this year’s National League, Galway provide the opposition and Cavan’s Joe McQuillan is the ref. Throw-in under the lights is 7.30pm and the match is being shown live on RTÉ2.
This evening’s clash against last year’s All-Ireland finalists – who field this evening with eleven of their starting fifteen from last July – represents the first competitive test for the new management under Kevin McStay. Pre-season has gone well for us, capped by a first FBD League title in over a decade, but now the real stuff begins.
And it starts in a way like never before, with a League season that abuts directly with the Championship campaign to follow. For this reason and because of the added importance of the League in the new fixtures structure, this game – like the six more to come at us in a rapid-fire way – is an important one.
It’s easy to paint a gloomy picture about this one. Galway’s pick looks way more experienced compared to ours, which, as Ed McGreal pointed out last night, sees Diarmuid O’Connor, at 28, the oldest player lining out for us. It doesn’t take an overly wild imagination to envisage us being a bit out of our depth tonight.
Holding that thought, you could then add to it by viewing next weekend’s trip to Armagh as one that might also be a fruitless one. That’s followed by a home clash with All-Ireland champions Kerry. You know where this line of thinking leads – it doesn’t take much to conjur up an early set of adverse results that sees us getting sucked into a battle to avoid relegation.
But a night for new beginnings isn’t one for those type of thoughts. Sure, we’re fielding a less experienced line-up than they are but the advisability of Joyce going so tooled up for an opening round League match in January has to be questioned. And should he really have gone with so many of the Moycullen lads, given all the winter ball they’ve played?
The great thing about sport is that all of these questions remained unanswered in advance of the contest getting underway. Once it does, we’ll have our response on these and other issues too.
For my own part, I’m enthused about this new start. We don’t, of course, know where it’s going to lead us but the mood inside the group appears to be positive and, with standards lower nationally since the time we went toe-to-toe with the great Dublin team, the summit doesn’t look as forbidding as it once did.
We’re a long way from the summit right now. In fact, we’re right down at the base of the mountain looking up but we’re also about to set off another another trek. I can’t wait for us to get going.
We have, of course, two Mayo matches on today, with the women in action first. They’re up against Kerry at the Connacht CoE, where they’re aiming to secure a first win in their NFL Division One campaign. That one is also being shown live, this time on TG4.
The best of luck to both Mayo teams today. Here’s to positive performances by both of them, here’s to two wins on home soil. Up Mayo.