It’s game day once again, this time under the lights at Croke Park in a National League Division One Round 3 match against Dublin. The match throws in at 7.30pm this evening, it’s being shown live on RTÉ2 with live radio commentary on Midwest as well. Meath’s David Gough will ref it.
I don’t tend to frame pre-game pieces on the day of a match with a question. Heading once more this evening to Croke Park to see Mayo take on Dublin in the League, however, it’s impossible not to have all manner of questions about our ability to take the fight to our opponents.
In this respect, our recent record against them in the League stands as a sharp rebuke to us. After we drew with them at Croke Park in 2014, we got thumped in Castlebar in 2015 and then lost narrowly to them at the same venue in 2016. From then on, though, this has been a grim fixture from our point of view.
We suffered a twelve-point scutching at Croke Park in 2017, a four-point beating that was in reality a decisive defeat at MacHale Park in 2018, an eight-point hiding at Croke Park in 2019 (even in the League campaign we won, we still couldn’t give them a proper game at HQ) and a depressing six-point loss at MacHale Park in 2020.
Of all our League fixtures over the past decade, this is without question my least favourite one. We never seem to be up for this game, as this piece by Malachy Clerkin in today’s Irish Times confirms. Hence my wondering about why we think this evening might be any different.
At first blush, our team selection for tonight isn’t one that screams emphatically about how much we mean business. A more considered appraisal, though, shows that reaction to be a tad unfair.
Nine of this evening’s starting team lined out in last year’s All-Ireland final, while two more – Jordan Flynn and Aiden Orme – joined the fray then from the bench. The four who didn’t see action last September – Rory Brickenden, Donnacha McHugh, Jack Carney and Paul Towey – are all promising young players whose development will definitely be aided by lining out on the big stage tonight.
We’ve no idea, of course, what kind of Dublin team we’ll be playing. They haven’t named their side yet and when they do they’re sure to make changes to it subsequently before the ball is thrown in.
What we do know, however, is that this is a match Dublin will have jotted down as a banker for collecting two points from. And, seeing as they have yet to pick up any League points in this campaign to date, that means their need for a win tonight is that bit stronger. We can, then, expect to see a formidable Dublin team facing us later on at Croke Park, one that’ll expend all the energy they require to get the two points they so badly need.
Which bring the circle back to where I was at the start – where are our heads at? Are we finally, after years of craven submission in this spring fixture, going to have a proper cut at them?
I haven’t a clue if we will, to be honest. I won’t be surprised – but will still be disappointed – if once again we allow them to roll us over. I will, though, be absolutely delighted if we give them a long overdue bellyful.
A win tonight puts us in a great position in Division One. Our top tier status all but assured, a second victory in a row over Dublin in the bag, we can ease off the pedal for the remainder of the League and begin to turn our focus more keenly instead towards the Connacht Championship and that meeting with Galway in late April.
A loss tonight, though, and we’re back in much more familiar territory. Not yet in a relegation battle but knowing that we’re scrapping for points from here on and knowing too that we’ve just handed Dublin a renewed lease of life.
I know which outcome I prefer. I’m heading to Croke Park later on this evening, though, without the first idea as to which scenario is the more likely.
So, here’s to the high road. Here’s to being pleasantly surprised. Here’s to a long overdue win over the Dubs in the League and, with it, our first ever victory over them in a regulation League match played in the capital.
Are we up for this? I sure hope we are. Up Mayo.