February was, from our perspective, a whole load of fun. Our best start to the National League in ages – better even than when we won it in 2019 – and, with seven points out of a possible eight in the bag from four outings, thoughts of relegation can safely (if not mathematically) be dispensed with for now.
Who thought that, at the start of the meteorological spring, we’d find ourselves in this kind of territory? I know I didn’t.
But February – and another winter, such as this one was – is now behind us. A new month has dawned, the photo above which I took this morning out on an early tramp is what the frozen dawn looked like in the east of the county, and, with it, another month of football action for us.
March won’t be a defining month. It never is, not in Gaelic football at any rate.
But it will be an interesting one and when we cash March in for April we’ll be better informed then about how we’re shaping up for the summer to come.
Armagh was a good test for us the last day. It wasn’t one we came through with flying colours but it did demonstrate plenty of character. The Orchard lads succeeded in disrupting severely our game plan, forcing us to play the match largely on their terms but, despite this, we ultimately found a way to beat them. James will, surely, have taken great satisfaction from that.
Our next two outings will present us with more searching examinations of our capabilities. Kerry are the form team so far this year and, in front of a full house under the lights at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, there’ll be no place to hide.
We’re likely to go into that one as complete outsiders but, if so, that would ignore our excellent recent record at the venue. We beat them there in both 2019 and 2017 (I was there in ’17, what a sweet win that was) and with a win in Killarney in 2015, a draw in Tralee in 2012 and a win there in 2010, you actually have to go as far back as 2009 – all of thirteen seasons ago – to locate our most recent defeat to the Kingdom in a National League match played on their turf.
We also recorded wins the two most recent times we played Tyrone in Healy Park, which, by coincidence, was also in 2019 and 2017. How we fancy our chances this time will, I guess, be informed by how we fare out beforehand against Kerry but, that said, I suspect there may well be a strong desire on the part of James and his team to show that last September’s defeat to Tyrone on the big day was an aberration and an outcome that must be avenged.
I’m not sure, while we’re on this topic, that the Kerry match is freighted with any such concerns or desires for us. We’ve no real beef with the Yerras going into this one and it probably suits us to see their balloon inflate a bit further. James could, then, use the game on Saturday week as another opportunity to experiment widely, letting the chips fall wherever they do as regards the result.
Or maybe not. The opportunity to sow a shard of doubt in the minds of Kerry’s hoped-for gilded generation may prove just too difficult to resist. Plus, winning’s a habit and it’s one we’re close to being hooked on at this stage.
On that note, do we care about winning the League? I’m not sure we’ve earned the right one way or another to consider that question as yet and successive defeats in Tralee and Omagh would fairly soften our cough in that regard. But if we head to our home-from-home Round 7 meeting with Kildare at Páirc Seán with the chance to make a League decider, then for sure we should go for it with plenty of gusto.
Because if we do make it to Croke Park in early April – and, from our perspective, you can never play too often there – then Galway are very likely to be at HQ then too, contesting the Division Two decider.
March is set to be an interesting month for the Tribesmen too. They’ve started well this year but, like us, a few stiff tests away from home await them this month.
By the way, Patreon club members will get to hear what the mood is like on the Galway side of the fence in a few days, as we’ll have a bonus episode in which Rob chats with podcast regular Barry Cullinane.
And, of course, March will be a month where our thoughts will drift ever more towards Championship and that preliminary round Connacht SFC clash with Galway in late April. Even if we are in a League final a month from now, the drumbeats at that stage will be all about the Galway game. As they should be. As they bloody well better be.
In the meantime, though, free from those perennial worries about preserving our top tier status, we’ve three more League matches to play. The year so far has been surprisingly uplifting – Anne-Marie Flynn, once more on fire in this week’s Mayo News, put it so well when she wondered about “the sense that incredibly, just maybe, we are all back in it, together” – and the distance we’ve already travelled this year has, in large part, helped us put last September’s implosion behind us.
We have – Tommy Conroy’s sickening cruciate injury aside – a fabulous February to thank for that. Here’s to a marvellous March to keep that positive spring in our collective step as the real business of the year begins to approach.