Here we are. After months of waiting, the long-anticipated, high-octane start to this year’s Connacht championship is at last upon us. Later on today at MacHale Park in Castlebar our lads take the field against Galway. The match throws in at 4pm, Cork’s Conor Lane is the ref and the place will be heaving.
It’s worth bearing in mind that today’s encounter is but a provincial quarter-final one. And, unlike those storied clashes of yesteryear, it’s not in the strict sense of the word a must-win match. Regardless of how today’s game goes, we’ll both still be in the championship come sundown.
That said, how pretty we’re sitting tonight will depend on how we get on today. The direct route is always the best way to go and even though we’ve had oodles of fun – as well as the odd heart attack – negotiating our way through the qualifiers over the last two years, I think all of us would agree that it’d be far preferable to keep it on the straight and narrow this summer.
That, of course, is Galway’s aim as well. The neighbours rock into Castlebar today aiming to beat us for the third successive time in the championship, with all that warm praise for their Division One campaign this spring and plenty of positive previews from the pundits ringing in their ears.
Beating them today will be no easy task for us. We’re notoriously slow to get going in the championship, regardless of who we face early on, and another ponderous opening day today will surely see us once again dispatched to the byways of the qualifiers.
Add into the pot our abysmal record at MacHale Park, where we last won a competitive game in normal time almost exactly a year ago – when we beat Sligo in the opening round of last year’s Connacht championship – and where we rarely play at our best.
The middle of May isn’t normally the time of year you expect to see us having to put on a big performance. This year – due to this frankly insane championship draw – is different. Put simply, we need to put in a very strong and committed display today if we’re to get over this hugely tricky hurdle.
Will we do it? To be honest, I haven’t a clue. But I do know that Stephen Rochford and his players have had this date and this challenge in the forefront of their minds ever since the draw was made late last year. They understand the kind of test this match represents and they know what they have to do. That’s good enough for me.
For those of us looking on, there is – once again – a job of work to be done. We’re the most vociferous, passionate bunch of supporters on big days in Croke Park but we don’t always give it socks on home turf. Like the players, we take a bit of time to get into our stride. The same as the lads on the field, though, we don’t have that luxury this year.
An A game from the lads deserves A game support from those of us watching. We know, in particular from last year, how important our role is in proceedings so we need to give them the kind of support they’ll draw renewed strength from in what is sure to be an energy-sapping contest.
Right, then, we all know what we need to do. What I need to do first, and sharpish, is get out the door and get onto the road west. A long day lies ahead for us all but, we hope and expect, a satisfying one too.
Here’s to a big performance from the lads today at MacHale Park. Here’s to what is now a long overdue championship win over the neighbours. Onwards and upwards. Up Mayo.