While we’re still only a few days on from last weekend’s match, the qualifiers – as we’re finding out – don’t allow time to sit and ruminate for too long about what’s just happened. With our next do-or-die battle facing us in the shape of Kildare in just four days time, the focus has to be on what what’s up ahead rather than what’s behind us.
Given the hysterical – to the point of comical – overreaction to the Aidan O’Shea penalty incident (by the way, I’m coming round to the conclusion that it was a penalty after all – for the shirt tug – and even it wasn’t given I’m convinced we’d still have won such was the momentum we had at that stage) it’s no harm that we’ve been able to put some distance at a smart pace between us and all that. Time to move on, onwards and upwards.
I’m already looking forward with anticipation to Saturday, for selfish personal reasons as well as the game. Ever since the Galway defeat I was cursing these blasted qualifiers as I could see that the Round 3B date (should we be so fortunate to still be in it then etc. etc.) clashed with that for the Westportif cycle.
That date clash is still there but the home draw allied to the 7pm throw-in time means that I’ll be able to get the 120km route done, though sadly not the full 160km one. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to cover than kind of distance, given the 9am start time in Westport and then the logistics afterwards of getting back to base, refuelled and over again to Castlebar in time for throw-in.
I may have emptied the tank on Lally’s Mountain well before throw-in the next day but we’ll all be expecting the lads to pitch up at MacHale Park on Saturday evening primed and ready for another dog-eat-dog tussle. With the safety net stripped away, there really is an element of old-fashioned championship football to the qualifiers, something we’ve only experienced in recent years when we’ve got to Croke Park. There was definitely a different air to MacHale Park last Saturday, with our whole year in the balance for pretty much all of the seventy minutes, and we can expect this and more next Saturday evening when the Lilies come to town.
I touched on this yesterday but it’s worth repeating again (even if those stats on their backdoor record remain maddeningly out of reach) that Kildare know a hell of a lot more about negotiating their way through the qualifiers than we do. They were able to pick themselves up last year following an unmerciful hiding by Dublin in the Leinster semi-final to navigate their way through the backdoor, first overcoming Offaly by two points in a nervy Round 2A clash at O’Connor Park, then dispatching Longford with ease a week later in Mullingar, winning by 2-24 to 0-11. By the time they got hold of Cork in Round 4 the rejuvenated Lilies were once more flying. Cork had come off second best after two tough Munster final jousts with Kerry in Killarney and, forced to take the field again only a week after losing the replay, ended up getting blitzed down in Semple Stadium, Kildare winning by 1-21 to 1-14.
The Kildare 2015 story didn’t, of course, have a happy ending, with Kerry blasting seven goals past them in the All-Ireland quarter-finals as they handed out a 7-16 to 0-10 pasting to the Lilywhites. That horrific dénouement doesn’t take away from the fact that, not for the first time, underperformance in Leinster proved no bar to Kildare getting back to Croke Park and you can be sure that this is what they’re intent on doing this year too.
As, of course, are we. With no new injuries to report from Saturday, things finally seem to be looking up on that front for us. The Mayo News (paper and digital variants) reports today that Chris Barrett and Conor Loftus, who have both been out with hamstring trouble, are back in training and may be in the frame for selection on Saturday. Tom Parsons, though, is still on the road to recovery but, if we get past this next hurdle, he could well be good to go in Round 4B. That’s if there is to be a Round 4B for us. One game at a time and all that.
There’s loads, as ever, in the Mayo News this week on the football. I particularly enjoyed Billy Joe Padden’s tactics column and Stephen Rochford’s calm rejection of the OTT pundit reaction to the Aidan O’Shea incident – in an interview with Mike Finnerty he calls it “unhelpful and unnecessary” – was good to see as well. He says we’ve already moved on and that we have. How long until Saturday?