The long, long closed season at inter-county level is finally over. An absolute avalanche of matches is heading in our direction now, starting at Pearse Stadium this afternoon. Tyrone’s Seán Hurson has the whistle for today’s National League opener against Galway, which gets underway at 1.45pm. The game is live on TG4.
Last night’s Division One results – which saw home reversals for both Kerry and Dublin – underlined what a dogfight it’s going to be in the top tier this year. Every point racked up will be hard earned and while many of us would be happy enough if we dodged qualifying for the Division One decider this time round, equally not too many want to see us repeat what happened to us the year after we last won this title, when we tumbled through the relegation trapdoor.
So the points on offer today are important but so too is the kind of performance we deliver. Despite all the breezy talk from management about how last year wasn’t really all that bad (but it was, certainly the way we unravelled at the end) and how well we’ve prepared for the start of this year’s campaign, that talk has to be matched by some tangible on-field evidence that we’ve addressed the causes of our shortcomings last year and are better equipped for the heat of battle when it really counts this year.
How today goes won’t, of course, make or break us in that regard. Last year we could have made genuine claims about being the form team in the country in the spring but any such boasts were negated by the way our summer campaign careered wildly out of control, ending with the twelve-point humbling we suffered against Dublin.
This means that today has to be the first step on the road towards the high summer, with everything building towards what we all fervently hope we’re capable of doing then.
There’s some chatter in the wings pre-match about possible changes to the named team, with some or all of the trio who have Sigerson commitments possibly not starting. While that isn’t ideal, what’s key this spring is that we’re not afraid to blood new players because we simply have to improve our squad depth before the real action gets going.
Last year we experimented very little and ultimately paid a very heavy price for this. Even though using less experienced players might appear risky, it has to be done and, as Monaghan showed last night by tossing in three new lads at Croke Park, it can pay dividends.
There’s not a whole load more to be said. We won’t field a full-strength team later on and neither will they. The wind will blow the way it always does in Salthill – I’m in the vicinity already and it’s blowing hard enough now – and there’s expected to be some rain as well, though perhaps not as much as was forecast leading up to today.
And we can be sure it’ll be hot and heavy out on the field this afternoon once the ball is thrown in. It always is when it’s us against the neighbours, even in late January.
Yes, it’s great to have the football back and it’ll be better still if we can start the year with a win. Up Mayo.