Every county in the country is playing a football Championship game of some sorts this weekend. For us, it’s an All-Ireland SFC Round 2 group stage match against Louth. The game throws in at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park at 2pm this afternoon, Cavan’s Noel Mooney is the ref and the match is live on RTÉ.
We’re coming into today’s game on a bit of a high. Our win over All-Ireland champions Kerry down in Killarney a fortnight ago felt like a real statement and the result leaves us perfectly placed to go on and top the group and advance directly to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Much of the discussion after the Kerry game revolved around how poor they were – which, by extension, questioned our true worth – with the Kingdom’s sub-par performance against Cork yesterday amplifying that point. That particular narrative suggests we still have to prove ourselves, with today’s game our first opportunity to start doing so.
No matter how you cut it, we should be winning this game with a bit to spare. While Louth enjoyed a very solid Division Two campaign this spring, if we truly are Sam Maguire contenders this year we should be winning this one with a minimum of fuss.
Louth and ourselves may not have any direct recent experience of playing each other but Mickey Harte knows plenty about taking teams to Castlebar and frustrating the life out of the home side and its supporters. A deep-lying defence, allied to rapid counter-attacking, would appear to be the obvious template facing us from Harte’s charges today.
That approach has often caused us trouble in the tight confines at MacHale Park and Roscommon executed a strategy based on it to perfection against us back in April. Louth will, no doubt, be looking to do something similar today.
That could prove difficult, though, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, Roscommon are a serious Division One team and they faced us just days after we’d won the League final. It was a game they’d prepared for over a period of months, whereas we’d had no more than a few days to get set.
The weather then, cold, wet and windy, was ideal for the tactics Roscommon employed. The baking heat that we can expect this afternoon won’t be as conducive to such an approach.
The other factor which influenced the result of the Roscommon game – which, to my mind, hasn’t got enough attention – was the absence that day of David McBrien, Sam Callinan and James Carr. All three are, in different ways, vital to our game-plan this year and all three were influential in Killarney. They’re all named to start today.
What I think we can expect to see from the lads today is a controlled performance. Rob has remarked more than once on the podcast of late about the absence of chaos in games involving us this year. One time that was our trademark – we dug a big hole for ourselves and then hit the opposition with everything we had to get ourselves out of the hole and away to victory. I think we can now safely conclude that this is not the McStay way.
Instead, there’s a much more structured approach to our play this year and we can expect to see more evidence of this today. In addition, we showed impressive variety in our attacking forays in Killarney and a similar approach today could and should reap dividends for us early and often.
The bottom line is that we should win today, ideally without a whole load of trouble. Indeed, after the heroics down in Killarney, anything other than a comfortable win for us today would be viewed as something of a setback.
A win by a large margin today would also all but guarantee that we’ll top the group. While a win of any kind is a prerequisite for us this afternoon, a big win is what we should be targeting, not least in light of the momentum it would give us, in a year where momentum has added importance.
Right, time for me to hit the road west. Safe travelling to all on the move today, including those from the Wee County who are heading west to shout for their team.
Here’s to fun in the sun for our lads this afternoon, here’s to a win to build on the result we got in Killarney. Let’s get it done. Up Mayo.