The provisional schedule for next spring’s National Football League has been published. Our list sees us play four matches at home and three away, in what will be our 21st consecutive season in the League’s top flight.
Here’s the 2019 NFL schedule from our perspective.
We start next year’s Division One campaign at home against newly-promoted Roscommon on Saturday 26th January, in what will be the first of five fixtures under the lights for us. The Rossies, like us, are without a manager right now, Kevin McStay having stepped down yesterday evening, making a few telling remarks in doing so about the amount of non-football work he’d had to do – including on the finance side of things – while in the role.
Eight days later, on Sunday 3rd February, we’re on the road. The destination is Healy Park in Omagh for the Round 2 meeting with beaten All-Ireland finalists Tyrone. The following Saturday, 9th February, it’s back again to MacHale Park to face the other Division One newbies, Cavan.
There’s a fortnight’s break then before Round 4 takes us to Croke Park to face Dublin, on Saturday 23rd February. That’ll be our first appearance at HQ – a venue we had for a while got used to considering a home from home for us – since the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Round 5 the following weekend sees us back in Castlebar where we take on Galway. That game, listed for 2nd March, is another Saturday evening one.
There’s a second weekend off after that and then we’re away to Kerry in Round 6. That game too is a Saturday one, on 16th March. The concluding round takes place the following weekend with all matches scheduled for the same 2pm throw-in time on the Sunday, 24th March. Our Round 7 fixture is at home against Monaghan.
Does anyone recall the significance of the League match we played against Donegal at MacHale Park at the start of April 2017? Well, you should because it was the most recent NFL fixture we won on home soil.
We played three League games at home last year and lost them all, our top tier status secured courtesy of wins on the road in Clones and Newbridge (!) and that frantic draw up in Ballybofey.
We’ve more fish to fry, of course, in the coming year – regardless of who ends up managing the team for 2019 – than preserving our long, proud record in Division One. I get that but, assuming we want to at least try to avoid the drop next spring, then it’s fairly obvious what we need to do.
Our Round 1 match against the Rossies is the ideal fixture for us to start the process of re-learning how to win a competitive tie at MacHale Park. All our home games – after the Rossies, we face Cavan, Galway and Monaghan in Castlebar – are ones in which we should realistically be targeting points. We’ll definitely need to get something from these games because getting anything tangible away to Tyrone, Dublin and Kerry will be far from easy.
As we know so well, of course, nothing comes easy to any team in Division One. But we can definitely make the road less hard on ourselves by re-discovering the delights of home comforts. And, you know, winning – like losing – becomes a habit.