What a difference a week makes.
Ahead of throw-in at Tuam last Sunday, it looked like we had a mountain to climb to retain our National League top tier status. Seventy minutes of football later and a crushing win in the bag, our task of engineering another Round 7 great escape doesn’t look quite so daunting now.
Today’s opponents are Tyrone and we need to beat them if we’re to play Division One football again next year. The match will be reffed by Fermanagh’s Niall Cullen and throw-in behind closed doors at MacHale Park is 2pm. The game is being streamed live on the TG4 Player and will be broadcast in full a bit later on as the deferred game on TG4.
This afternoon’s match will be the team’s final outing at MacHale Park this year. Maybe that’s no bad thing – after all, we’ve failed to beat today’s opponents at the venue since way back in 1992.
It’s hard to know how to analyse the threat Tyrone pose today. In attempting to do so, however, it’s impossible not to start with the news that broke yesterday afternoon about a reported Covid case within their squad.
As yet, there’s no official confirmation or denial of this story from Tyrone GAA, nor have they released their team details for the game. There’s nothing at all, in fact, from them about today’s game on their website or social media channels.
This reticence is, needless to say, far from satisfactory. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and Tyrone GAA owe it to us and to themselves to say what the story is within their squad and to announce what team they’re fielding today. They should, of course, have done this before now but they should certainly do so without further delay.
Will this be a full strength team or will they – as their Ulster Championship opponents Donegal did yesterday down in Tralee – opt to keep their powder dry ahead of next weekend? As things stand, we simply don’t know.
What we do know is that James Horan has kept faith with most of the team that started for us last Sunday in Tuam. Kevin McLoughlin makes a welcome return, though, while Bryan Walsh returns to the first fifteen for the first time since the Donegal game back in January.
Absent any team news from Tyrone, it’s hard to know how today’s match might go. You’d have to imagine, though, that the visitors will at least be tempted to copy Donegal and opt to rest some of their first fifteen ahead of that crunch Championship clash next weekend. If that’s the choice they make then we’ll quite rightly be strong favourites to win out today.
If Tyrone decide to field a full-strength side today then it’s likely to be a very different kind of contest. Despite eventually getting outgunned by Donegal last Sunday, Tyrone did manage to post a total of 2-13 in that game and their forward power, combined with a fair bit of openness in our backline the last day, could spell trouble for us this afternoon.
Regardless of what team Tyrone field, though, how we do today is ultimately down to us. We need to bring the right appetite into this contest, knowing that – as has so often been the case in the final round of the League – our fate rests in our own hands.
Once again, we’ll be relying on our famed backs-to-the-wall fighting ability to see us through. It’s worked for us so often over the past decade and there’s every chance it’ll do so again today.
One thing’s for sure – we’re not going to give up our Division One status without one hell of a battle. Are Tyrone up for such a challenge today? That we don’t know but once the ball is thrown in at 2pm we’ll find out soon enough.
A win this afternoon would not only mean a positive end to the League for us, it would also give us considerable momentum heading into the winter Championship that now lies ahead. Given how compact the Championship schedule is in this pandemic year, hitting form at the right time is key so a win today would serve two purposes for us. Here’s hoping we get it.
The best of luck to James and the lads today. Up Mayo.