After a two-week break the action resumes tonight in this year’s National Football League. For us, it’s a rematch with our All-Ireland final opponents Dublin – on the double, to be precise, as the ladies are in action too – under the lights at MacHale Park. The lads get underway at 7pm while the LGFA match throws in at 5pm.
League clash repeats of the previous year’s All-Ireland always generate interest but they never resemble in any meaningful way the contest that was played out for Sam. Teams take different approaches to the League, some – like Dublin – because they can afford to, others – like us – because we have to.
Dublin – who haven’t yet named their line-up for tonight’s clash – will roll into Castlebar later on with a highly experienced and well-drilled team, one that’s had the luxury (which we haven’t) of training regularly in the one place. While their starting fifteen is likely to contain the two new lads – Howard and Basquel – their 26 will be well stocked with experienced, battle-hardened players.
By contrast, we’ll field a backline containing just one player – Colm Boyle – who lined out for us last September, with our fifteen assembled as best we can bearing in mind the significant logistical and other handicaps we tend to be burdened with at this time of year. Added to that this year is an overly-long injury list, which sees us take the field tonight shorn of several of our top performers.
It doesn’t take a genius, then, to figure out how tonight’s match is likely to go. Dublin have started the year in flying form, we’ve got going in our usual stuttering way. They’re, unsurprisingly, the highest scoring team in the division, we’re the ones with the lowest scoring record after three games.
We’ve home advantage, its true, but MacHale Park is far from a fortress venue for us. Dublin have beaten us the last two times they’ve played us in Castlebar and while the second of those was a gritty 0-9 to 0-7 battle, the 2015 meeting was a thrashing, pure and simple.
Do I need to mention how long it’s been since we beat Dublin at all, or that we’ve never done so since Jim Gavin took over? No, didn’t think so.
I’m sorry to be so downbeat – I’m usually firmly in the glass-half-full camp – but it’s impossible to see anything but a win for Dublin tonight. If we take that as a strong likelihood (while noting, of course, that in sport anything can happen on a given day) then we need to be looking for comforts elsewhere from tonight’s game.
For me, how we perform tonight is the key thing. Another League match in which Dublin wipe the floor with us – as they did in 2015, as they did again last year – won’t do players, management or supporters alike any good.
There’ll be other days when we get the chance to rip into them properly and show that, when push comes to shove, we’re the only team in the country capable of putting it up to the best team in the game. Today isn’t one of those days.
Aside from anything else, points difference is likely to have a bearing on who ends up where in the League table. In light of this a structured, resolute performance – one that ensures we don’t get pasted and might, if the stars align, gives us a chance of claiming something out of this game – is probably the way we need to go in this one.
I’m not going to be there myself tonight. Not because of how I think the game will go but it’s just one of those weekends when there’s too much other stuff for me to attend to on the domestic front up here, plenty of it juvenile level GAA-related.
So there’ll be no post-match audio from me for this one but I’ll be following the match from here and will have the match report and MOTM poll up on the site a bit after the final whistle sounds at MacHale Park tonight. Safe travelling to all making their way to Castlebar tonight and wrap up warm.
Here’s to a strong performance in difficult conditions for the lads tonight. Up Mayo.