The 2022 National League campaign is already at the halfway stage. Indeed, once this weekend’s Round 4 matches are over, it’ll be past the halfway mark, with the pace picking up visibly week on week.
Today we welcome Armagh to Dr Hyde Park – this weekend’s temporary home venue for us – for what’s a meeting between two of the three teams who are still unbeaten in Division One this year. Meath’s David Coldrick is the ref and throw-in at the Roscommon venue is 2pm.
I think it’s fair to say that neither set of supporters would have thought at the start of the year that we’d both be sitting as prettily as we are at this stage. Armagh were on most people’s list of likely candidates for the drop this spring whereas our perennial struggles to stay up are ones we’ve all lived through in some shape or form and I probably wasn’t alone in believing we were likely to be faced with a similar battle this year.
Instead, we’re both close to safe after three rounds of matches and can start to think about pushing on in this League campaign.
From our perspective, this is all hugely welcome. Last September’s All-Ireland defeat was the worst final loss of the lot and, for many supporters, the notion of going again this spring felt, for the first time, like an impossibility.
Just as well James Horan and his players didn’t feel that way.
Football is, of course, a results business and so, first and foremost, what we’ve achieved in the three matches we’ve played to date is what sends us into this game in such high spirits. Hand in hand with the points on the board, though, is the visible evidence of our ever-deepening panel.
In our three games to date, we’ve used 29 players, many of them lads only starting out at inter-county level, as James continues to sift through the panel, giving as many players as possible priceless game time at this level.
Already we can see that the Mayo team of 2022 is a different animal from that of last year. A team – or, more accurately, a panel – with a better developed sense of purpose, a more defined playing style, a greater determination to dominate proceedings.
For that reason alone, it’s important that we continue to make progress as this Division One campaign progresses. Drawing with Donegal – undeservedly, let’s face it – was great, going up to Clones and beating Monaghan was even better and doing over Dublin with the minimum of fuss last Saturday night at Croke Park was better still. But now come the real challenges.
Armagh are a tough, direct and mobile outfit, a team in some ways like us and, also like us, a team that will come into Hyde Park feeling good about themselves. They’ll respect us but they won’t fear us. And, for sure, they’ll travel in the expectation that they’re well capable of turning us over.
We’ll need to raise our performance from Croke Park if we’re to get a result today. But, with trips to Tralee and Omagh to come after today, a rising performance arc is what we need if we’re going to make the Division One shake-up.
So, as we head to our temporary home today, it has to be with the aim of driving on in this League campaign. Winning is something we’re getting very used to nowadays – the only competitive match we’ve lost since the start of last year was the All-Ireland final – so another injection of that winning feeling today would be very welcome and would keep us moving towards summer in the right frame of mind.
Right, it’ll soon be time to head for the land of the Rossies, on a day when we’ve no quarrel at all with them as, instead, we’re off to raid the orchard.
Let’s be having them apples. Let’s drive this on. Up Mayo.