After our six-week break from the action, we’re right back in it today. Our All-Ireland SFC group stage opening round match against Kerry throws in this afternoon at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, at 3pm. Seán Hurson of Tyrone is the ref and the game is being streamed live on GAAGO.
I’m in the west myself this morning but it’s a long a way down to Killarney from here so, of necessity, this needs to be brief. That’s no problem, today’s a day for action rather than words.
It’s obviously a big day for us and a big challenge too. We all recall what befell us the last time we played them at today’s venue and we clearly don’t want that to happen again later on this afternoon.
After a hugely positive National League campaign, when we were in everyone’s conversation about teams that might challenge for the big one this summer, the loss to Roscommon altered that narrative hugely and suddenly. There’s been plenty of chatter since about “which Mayo will show up?” and the like.
It’s as if we have to go out there and prove our bona fides all over again. (In truth, though, even if the prevailing narrative might not make sense to many of us, isn’t that what sport is all about?) Today would be a delicious day on which to do this.
Tony Leen, chatting on the match preview preview pod the other day, made the very pertinent point that Kerry rarely fail to perform in matches like this. That means that, if we’re to take them down today, everything is going to have to go extremely well for us, better than it has so far this year.
We’re definitely going to need more from the middle third, a sector where, despite losing Tadhg O’Rourke to long-term injury in advance, Roscommon dominated in large measure. We’ve been punching a bit below our weight in this area of the field for some time – both on winning primary ball and on picking up the breaks – and we’ll need to be much improved there.
The forward line has to click better and the backs have to put some kind of hold on the much-vaunted Kerry forward line. In addition, unlike in 2019, our restart strategy has to avoid blowing up in our faces.
That’s asking a lot but, to beat the best, which Kerry, as defending All-Ireland champions, can with justification claim to be, we’re going to need to produce a performance that delivers all over the field.
Another thing that Tony said on the pod gives us, perhaps, some cause for some optimism. That 2019 meeting – which, with Covid and everything sense, seems so long ago – wasn’t just the last (indeed, the only) time we played them there in the Championship, it was also the most recent time they’ve played a big game at the venue.
That means it’s a big day for them too, a day when they know they need to perform. If we can get at them early and ruffle their aristocratic feathers, we could profit from it.
Clearly, if they, as they’ll want to do, wreak early damage on us then it could be a long day for us. Then, as Kevin McStay pointed out on the pod last week, the important thing will be to leave enough “air in the balloon” for us to recover over the remainder of the group stage.
In that regard, our minimum objective for today is that a repeat of 2019 must be avoided at all costs. It goes without saying – but I’ll do so anyway – that the sky’s the limit on our maximum objective this afternoon.
Right, that’s more than enough yapping. This drive to Kerry isn’t going to do itself. Take care everyone on the roads and here’s to a productive day down south for us. Let’s get to it. Up Mayo!