March will be interesting

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.

29 thoughts on “March will be interesting

  1. Great piece WJ, hard to imagine after last year that we are here again, playing good football and finding a player or two along the way. Oisin a huge boost for us as well. We are still a forward or two away I feel from where we need to be but still plenty to look forward to and credit to James and co for that.

  2. Good read Willie,

    Mayo have a good record in Kerry so they won’t be perturbed by heading down to play us.

    Full House and championship atmosphere with weather permitting lead to a good examination of both teams.

    How we deal with the Mayo running game particularly the HB line will be what I’m looking for.

    I’d assume OHora would pick up Clifford and that will also be fascinating.

    I think the loss of Tommy Conroy is a huge blow as that would have been 3 marquee forwards for Mayo and that’s hard to counter.

    2 on the other hand I would hope is manageable.

    The use of Aidan OShea is the right call and I think come the summer you’ll see David Moran in a similar role.

    Kerrys much maligned defence is holding up well with no goals from play this year albeit Donegal, Dublin,Monaghan were poor enough.

    We’ve the best defence so far in the league and that’s certainly the most pleasing aspect so far.

    I know it’s a long long way out but if I was asked to pick 2 all finalists in July it would be Kerry Mayo.

    So here’s to being reacquainted again on Sat week.

  3. Good piece always, Willie Joe. As you say Tommy Conroy a huge loss – hope we have no more serious injuries, esp cruciate. Maigh Eo Abú

  4. I think losing this is no harm.Kerry are well capable of taking us for granted in July if we are there losing to them will just endorse that complacency

  5. Re 1989

    I doubt that my man,
    You’d expect us to have learnt that lesson last year after hammering Tyrone.

  6. Never mind this crap about not going out to win. Go and beat kerry the next day and go and beat them again in the championship if they meet and if they are not able to then so be it. We all know how the dubs always went out to beat the big teams in every game. Put doubt in their minds and let them mull over it until they meet again.

  7. While it would of course be nice to beat Kerry, the fact of the matter is that its no big deal if we lose. Kerry are the top team in the country at the moment, without a doubt and I am sure they have their eyes on big prizes. They seem to be fielding strong teams in each game. In contrast we just seem to be mixing it up in each game and I would expect James will do likewise next week. While its great to be going well after our poor performance in the AI Final, I always felt that there was a massively over negative reaction after that game .We did not play well and Tyrone were clever. When Plan A didnt work we looked lost. Tyrone are masters of suffocation and ruining teams Plan A. In a similar way there was on over positive reaction when we beat Dublin in the AI Semi Final. Truth is and its very evident now, that Dublin were in serious decline. That day we did not play well for over 50 minutes and in the Connacht Final v Galway we were poor enough in the first half as well.. Dont forget Cillian was a serious loss to us last year. Had we lost to Dublin by a point most Mayo supporters would have said we had a fairly good year, winning promotion, winning a Connacht title and running the mighty dubs so close. However the loss to Tyrone made so many forget the positives. A good start this year, but losing Tommy is a serious blow. Its the first week in March, a time of the year when supporters should neither get carried away or be too desperate .The championship is the test and Galway will certainly provide us with a serious challenge. The one really good thing about the team so far is their resilience and character, two massive qualities. Keeping this up will put us in a strong position regardless of the opposition.

  8. I say we go out and play our inform players as per usual against Kerry and beat them if we can. After that I think we should cast the net wide and give key players a rest. Particularly the game in Pairc Sean Mac against Kildare should be of no interest to us because its a small field with a crap surface and ideal for mass blanket defence. Winning the league is not our plan.. having a full panel injury free and in peak condition for Galway should be our plan

  9. While I would not be too bothered if we lose versus Kerry, there is still a thought in the back of my mind that of the last three games this is the one that I would most like to win. Kerry are favourites but until they win Sam, there will be open questions about them, therefore could set a seed of doubt if we manage to turn them over in Tralee.

  10. Ed Sheeran plays croke park the weekend of the Mayo/Galway game, so it won’t be in croker

  11. We’d all be forgiven for not expecting 7 points at this stage: someone as seasoned as Colm Boyle also did not expect “we’d find ourselves in this kind of territory.” He said somewhere, was it one of the podcasts a few weeks ago, that he was apprehensive of a struggle in the league this year, due in part to no home games.

    McHale part update in Mayo News this week…on track for Galway game.
    https://www.mayonews.ie/sports/38066-machale-park-works-on-target

  12. So Croker is out but McHale Pk might be ready. If its not where will the game be played? Mayo will hardly opt for Salthill – so the Q is will the Rossies give us the Hyde. How does that work?

  13. I’m not sure that’s how it works in the sense we would have to seek permission to use the Hyde from ros , Connacht council would dictate venue surely after they get both counties to agree .

  14. Would I be correct in saying CF would be in the Hyde if it were a mayo v ros final ?

  15. If McHale isn’t ready they might go to Limerick Think that’s where we played Galway in 2019

  16. Sean – We’re due a home game vs Roscommon as the last meeting in 2020 was in the Hyde.

  17. Last time we played Ros was in 20 in the Hyde in Con SF so this time we would have home advantage no?
    The 2019 Rd4 qualifier was in Limerick as it had to be a neutral venue & maybe the Hyde was deemed too small.
    As to how Con Council decide and if the Rossies could say no I’ve no idea. If it’s a Galway Ros final it would be in the Hyde so maybe the Rossies wouldn’t want to give Galway an earlier match there?

  18. A Connacht championship match should be played in Connacht. I note with interest that Pearce Stadium now has a slightly bigger capacity than MacHale Park (26,197 v 25,369). In reality MacHale park can hold many more. H&S have been dismantling the capacity since 2015. With the first few rows of the “Albany” end, I wonder will they reduce the capacity even further?

  19. its bloody bonkers when ya think mchale used to have 36k plus . what was the attendance in 2008 connacht final , seems to be the last bumper type crowd i remember .

  20. As much as people prefer the game to be played in Connaught, the bigger pitch certainly suits us rather than Galway.
    I would much prefer the game to be played in the Gaelic Grounds.

  21. @Clubman,.. I am as avid a Mayo fan as anyone and always have been all my life.. However the Connacht Council should not organize any fixture to advance one Connacht team over another. I know for well over a decade now the Leinster council have organized every fixture for the advancement of Dublin, as indeed the national GAA done likewise. I wouldn’t like Connacht to go down the same road as Leinster, it’s reasonably competitive in Connacht with the strong possibility of 3 team’s completing in Division One next year. If we win, let’s win on merit without any help from the administration, unlike Dublin! And anyhow, Hyde Park is just as good and big a playing surface as Croke Park, and the Connacht Championship should be played in Connacht!

  22. Leantimes I would agree with the Hyde if available
    But I certainly wouldn’t be in favor of Pearse Stadium. Home game for Galway Not a good venue anyway except on a calm summer day If McHale and the Hyde unavailable then Croker or Limerick

  23. @To win just once.. Let’s not count our chickens, never mind before they are hatched, the egg’s aren’t even laid yet .. No reason Hyde wouldn’t be available, whoever contest’s this year’s Connacht Final.

  24. Pics from mchale park this morning are glorious , surface looks great , fair play to all involved .

  25. Kerry lads I know are seeing Mayo game as benchmark as to where they really are. There are niggling doubts there about the team. Its sort of a compliament to Mayo in fairness. As for Galway not inspiring against Offaly. If we lose to Mayo are we out? No one seems able to answer the format is changed so many times. I would see the Galway game from current standings as 60/40 in favour of Mayo.

  26. Chesney – qualifiers are back, so there is a backdoor, for both teams – up to the quarters of course.

  27. Yes Catcol. And there will be no division 3 or 4 teams in qualifiers either, unless they make provincial final. So no perceieved soft touches in there!!

  28. Thanks very much, its been hard to get any info. Glad either team gets a chance as 1 game after a years training would be wrong.

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