There is an old Irish saying: Tús maith, leath na hoibre. Stephen Rochford came out earlier in the week and said that survival in Division One was the aim of this year’s league campaign. However, deep down one can be sure the new manager would love nothing more than to begin his tenure by raising a trophy in Croke Park.
2001 was the last time Mayo were crowned league champions, getting one up on our noisy neighbours just beating them by a single score. If the boys in the Green and Red won the battle that year, though, Galway most definitely won the war, lifting Sam aloft a few months later. Survival is key no doubt about it but is it very selfish to expect at least a place in the final?
Sunday will be Rochford’s first serious test. We are facing a team who have excelled in the league in recent years. They finished first in 2014 and ’15 (albeit eventually settling for runner-up spot in the final last year) and they won the competition for three consecutive years in a row from 2010-12.
In 2010 their opponents in the final were none other than Mayo. Cork went on to clinch Sam Maguire that year and it begs the question: if we had beaten them in that league final, would it have been a case of roles reversed?
The short answer is probably not. 2010 is not a year Mayo fans remember greatly, the league final appearance being the highlight of that year for us really says it all.
The long hypothetical answer arguably, though, is yes. In recent years, winners of the league have often marched on to the Promised Land. The last three times the Kingdom were crowned champions in Division One, they also lifted Sam Maguire that September. Two of those three wins came in ’04 and ’06 at the hands of … you guessed it. Also, in 2013 and 2015 the Dubs completed the treble where their fine league title win was then added to with provincial and All-Ireland silverware later on. Does the road to Croker start at the league stage? I’m sure if you asked Mickey Harte about Tyrone’s incredible season in 2003, he would tell you it certainly does.
It is not a proven fact nor does it serve any sort of proper correlation but a league trophy would surely do no harm in improving morale and confidence heading into the busy championship period. It’s a long way to Croker but it’s a longer way to Cork and grinding out a win against last year’s league toppers in their own backyard would be the ideal Tús Maith for the lads.