We’re back in National League action this evening, this time up in Healy Park where we take on All-Ireland champions Tyrone. Throw-in at Omagh is 5.45pm, the match is live on RTÉ2 and Maurice Deegan is the ref.
It would be tempting to see this as a rematch of last September’s All-Ireland final but we all know it’s no such thing. Sam Maguire isn’t on offer for the winners at Healy Park this evening and, while we’d definitely get a degree of satisfaction from beating them in this game (not least given that it was they who relegated us from Division One in 2020), we know full well that it’d be scant consolation for the way they turned us over last September.
If that recognition needs to be admitted up front in relation to this evening’s match, then so too does the two counties’ respective positions in Division One this year. Arising from this, the relative importance this game has for both needs also to be recognised.
In short, while we would like a win tonight, we’re in no dire need of a result. They are.
But it’s also the case that their need stems from a fairly dire run of form in Division One this spring, where they’ve won once, drawn once and lost three times. They’re coming into this one having been beaten in their last two matches – first against Donegal, where, having played so well in the first half, they lost their way completely after the break, and then when they found a rejuvenated Dublin way too hot to handle at Healy Park last weekend – and it’s not wholly clear that they’ll be able to rediscover the form they so badly need tonight.
Although we’re also coming into this game off the back of a defeat last time out, the manner of our minimum margin loss away to Kerry a week ago left us plenty to be encouraged about, albeit a fair bit to work on too. Seen in this light, Tyrone’s less-than-stellar form in recent matches compared to our more solid showings – where we’ve taken five points from a possible six against Ulster opposition so far in this campaign – bodes reasonably well for us.
This line of argument, however, ignores the widespread experimentation James has opted for in selecting his team for this game. Five changes from Tralee, with neither Paddy Durcan nor Diarmuid O’Connor in the match day 26, and Aidan O’Shea picked, for the first time at senior level for Mayo, to play at centre-back.
Peter Canavan stated on the ‘Here Comes the Weekend’ podcast that what sways him towards Tyrone is the fact that they need the win more urgently than we do. Will that be enough for them to do it? Maybe it will but maybe it won’t.
From our perspective, our need to win isn’t an elemental kill-or-be-killed one. We’re safe in Division One and a place in the League final is there to be grasped – if we’re of a mind to go for it – but we also have the luxury of largely tuning out of the chatter surrounding the League and starting to concentrate more fully instead on our Connacht Championship meeting with Galway late next month.
If, as a result, we come into this evening’s match with any air of insouciance then I think we’re pretty much guaranteed that the All-Ireland champions will be alert to this and will deal with us accordingly. That scenario could turn out ugly from our point of view.
On the other hand, if our experimentation pays off, which it only can if we approach the match with the seriousness it merits, then we may well be in for another profitable outing in Omagh. Here’s hoping that this is the more likely scenario facing us this evening.
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A quick word about the women, who are also taking on the current All-Ireland champions today. They play Meath in this afternoon’s LGFA NFL Division One semi-final, a game that throws in at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones at 3pm today. The match is being shown live on TG4.
Shorn of several heavy-hitters this spring, Michael Moyles’ refashioned, youthful Mayo team have made great progress in this League campaign. You can’t ask for more than three wins from three outings but today’s meeting with Meath represents a far harder challenge for them.
Taking on the best always gives a team a good indication of where they’re at and this should certainly be the case today. It will also be a great opportunity for the newcomers to taste what football is like at this level. So far, they’ve given every indication that they’re well up for it and it would be great to see them prosper in such exalted company today.
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Let’s not forget the county’s camogie team either, another outfit who are doing us all proud this spring. Like the women footballers, they’re unbeaten so far this year and, same as the lads, they’re tussling with Tyrone this afternoon. That Camogie League clash with the O’Neill County throws in At Adrian Freeman Park, Tooreen, at 2pm today.
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Right, I need to sort a few bits before hitting the road, which I’ll be doing in the early afternoon for what’s little more than a two-hour drive from here in the capital. Safe driving all and the best of luck to all three Mayo teams playing today. A win for any of them would be good, a win for all of them would be great.
Here’s to great. Up Mayo.