New beginnings

January is over and almost over too is the four-month hibernation in the GAA world. I’ve thought about starting this blog for months but it’s only now, three days before national competitive action resumes, that I’ve finally got around to doing it.

I’ve followed Mayo’s footballers for longer than I care to recall. Briefly, I was first taken to Connacht championship matches as a child in the late Sixties but have clear memories of such events from the early Seventies. So I remember the long drought of the Seventies and exulted in our re-emergence as serious contenders for the All-Ireland in the Eighties and Nineties. I’ve been at all of the finals since 1989 and have experienced the same sickening low that all other Mayo fans have gone through in 1989, 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2006.

But, as the title of this post suggests, the object here isn’t to look back – though I will do so, now and again over the coming months – but to think ahead to what’s facing us in 2007. We have a talented squad, with plenty of competition for places and we have, at last, Johnno back at the helm, accompanied by a good back-up team. We’re one of the top six or seven teams in the country as we prepare for the start of the NFL on Sunday (Kerry, Armagh, Tyrone, Dublin, Cork and Galway would be the others – including us that’s seven) and, given the way the Championship works (a topic I will return to again), we should, at least, make the All-Ireland series without too much difficulty. It’s there that the season really begins.

But now, back in February, we have the start of the NFL, with a rematch against Kerry in Castlebar on Sunday. This is being touted as a rerun of the All-Ireland, a revenge mission etc etc. It’s nothing of the sort – the only way we’ll get revenge on Kerry is by mashing them in a full Croke Park in the Summer, preferably in the final itself. League clashes are only about points and team-building for the Championship, nothing more. So, if we do win on Sunday, which we well could, let’s not get carried away, eh?

We still don’t have any word on the team but we do have a new captain. Kevin O’Neill made a great comeback in the county colours last year and showed true leadership qualities on the big days in the Summer, notably against Galway and Dublin. He’ll be a good captain. Peadar Gardiner is vice-captain – not a bad choice either but he needs a better season this year. He tailed off badly last year and had as poor an All-Ireland final performance last year as he had in 2004.

But, never mind the past. Where’s the team? Till then.

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