It’s Round 6 in this year’s National League and this afternoon our lads take the field against Donegal at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey where throw-in is set for 3.45pm. Seán Hurson of Tyrone is the ref and the match is live on TG4.
We snatched dramatic draws the last two times we played at this venue in the League but we’re still waiting for our first ever win over them in a competitive match played in Donegal. With us riding high at the top of the Division One table and them rooted to the bottom, today seems as good a day as any to put that irksome stat to rights.
Donegal aren’t in a great place at the minute, what with Michael Murphy now retired and Paddy McBrearty out injured, while the fallout from Karl Lacey’s abrupt resignation from his position as head of their development academy continues to rumble on. Both on the field and off it, they’ve plenty to contend with right now.
By contrast, we’re going well so far this year. The team is humming away nicely under the new management team and, while we’re still not devoid of the injury curse that has wounded us so badly in previous years, with Cillian O’Connor, Enda Hession and Rory Brickenden all missing out today due to different issues, so far at least we look like we’ve better depth to the squad.
We’re starting a strong team today – perhaps the strongest fifteen at our disposal right now – with Colm Reape returning between the sticks, while both Aidan O’Shea and Ryan O’Donoghue are recalled to the full-forward line. Three weeks out from the Roscommon game, it looks as if Kevin McStay and his selectors are homing in on their preferred starting line-up for the Championship.
Ahead of that, it now appears all but certain that, regardless of how we fare out either today or next weekend against Monaghan, we’ll be playing in this year’s League final. Neither Kerry nor Roscommon can overhaul us now, due both to our superior points difference and the head-to-head advantage we have over both of them, so a final appearance – most likely against Galway – is now beginning to look fairly nailed on.
Galway will still need to get something from their Round 7 meeting with Kerry next weekend to make the Division One decider. We, though, can confirm our place for Croke Park today if we avoid defeat against Donegal.
You’d have to think we’re capable of doing that. The O’Donnell County may be a bit down-at-heel right now but a wounded opponent, as England showed in the rugby yesterday, can prove to be a tough proposition.
Donegal still have plenty of good footballers in their ranks and, in front of their home support at a venue where they’ve proven extremely difficult to beat, they’re sure to put it up to us.
Our best form so far this year has been at home. In our away matches against both Armagh and Roscommon we wobbled badly in the final quarter and we can’t afford any such lapses today. Donegal are fighting for their Division One lives so if we give them any opportunities to damage us, they’re pretty much guaranteed to take them.
But in our five NFL games to date, we’ve shown we’re capable of inflicting damage ourselves. We’re the only unbeaten team in Division One, with the best points difference and, while Kerry are currently level with us on aggregate points scored, they’ve played a game more than we have.
Every game we play takes us closer to that pivotal Connacht SFC meeting with Roscommon next month. With Championship approaching, it’s important we see incremental improvements, week-on-week, as the start of the serious business of the inter-county season draws near.
What better way to show our intent than by claiming a first-ever win over Donegal on their turf, thereby sealing our berth in the League final? At this stage it looks like we can’t avoid a Croke Park date in a fortnight so we’re as well to embrace it. A win today in Ballybofey would certainly do that.
The women, meanwhile, have an important meeting with neighbours Galway at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park this afternoon (throw-in 2pm). Michael Moyles’ team are battling to retain their Division One status and a win today over the neighbours would pretty much guarantee top-tier League football for them next year.
Here’s to wins for both Mayo teams today, wins that would fortify both of them for the bigger challenges that lie ahead this year. We’re still in the foothills of this inter-county season but the push for the summit starts soon for both and it would be great if the two of them were to record much-needed wins, albeit for very different reasons, today.
Let’s hope that’s just what the two of them do. Up Mayo!