I know we’ve just had Christmas but the next one is coming early for me in 2019.
Why is that you ask?
On the 23rd, Mayo play Dublin. On the 24th, Manchester United play Liverpool and on Monday, the 25th, it’s my birthday and I begin a new role as Deputy Editor with Irish Mirror’s online website, Dublin Live.
I mean jam-packed isn’t the word for it, is it?
In an ideal world, Mayo would put away the Dubs in their own backyard, United would put a halt to Liverpool’s title chances and I’d go viral with a story on my first day in the new job.
I’d take one of those ‘wins’ before anything else though and I don’t even need to tell you what it would be. Because, Liverpool – if you leave them to it – will probably mess up on their own and, sure, Tuesday is another day in work anyway.
First things first. Saturday evening’s game means it’s a nice early return to Croker, a place which we took a brief holiday from last year. A place that holds a lot of memories but also a lot of heartache and all that emotion hits you at once when you come near Drumcondra.
The 16 Dublin Bus brings me to the airport. You pass Drumcondra on it and as I see Quinn’s and the remains of The Big Tree, you can’t help but smile.
Straight away I’m up in my seat, trying to adjust my position to see the top of Croker. It doesn’t matter if it’s December or the middle of the summer, I want to know that it’s still there and to let it know that I hope to visit real soon.
We’re top of the League so far this year but the fact that we conceded more points at home to Cavan than away to Tyrone just shows that we’re not home and dry by any means. But we have momentum and sometimes that can already pop over one or two scores for you before the game starts.
Dublin, despite their poor start, are goal hungry though and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two hit the back of the net on Saturday. But can we match them score for score, man for man?
Absolutely. If they hit us with two, don’t be surprised to see a Leeroy special or Diarmuid O’Connor running the pitch to shake their net as well.
I don’t need to emphasise the importance of a win against Dublin in Croker in the long-term. For the moment, though, we shouldn’t even be thinking about that anyway. For now, it’s solely to further our chance of a League title.
2014 was the last time we came close to a league win against them, a high-scoring, goal-fest draw in Croke Park.
It’s been seven years since our last win against the Dubs in the League, funnily enough the same year we last beat them in the Championship too. The same year that we were last in a League final as well.
You tell me that the League means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
We know what we can do to come close to the Dubs, drawing off recent years as evidence, but what did Monaghan and Kerry do to wobble the champions?
Well, first things first, they were lucky enough to get them on the road. We’re starting to make MacHale Park that fortress once again so having that in our locker would have been great but alas, we move on.
Monaghan introduced Stephen O’Hanlon who grabbed the same headlines that Fionn McDonagh did for us against Tyrone.
This young lad that few knew about was over here, now he’s over there and then, bang, he was up in the air and fielding balls and using the new mark to the best of its ability. Before Dublin had even half-sussed him out, he had already turned the game on its head and dragged them back from defeat to win the game.
Dublin know our veterans like the back of their hand but what about the fresh blood that Horan has been trying out?
He’ll be looking to them to cause the champions problems. One Monaghan player disrupted the flow in the league opener, what could happen if two or three new guns stepped up and gave performances that we know they have in them? Our bench now needs to become as important as the starting fifteen.
The new offensive mark currently being trialled is crucial too and all our forwards seem to have picked up on it. They’re constantly moving, looking to make the space, get on the ball and hopefully be close enough to pop over from range if there’s no momentum in the attack.
Jim Gavin came out recently and kind of boastfully said that his team hadn’t been “practising or even talking” about the mark. That’s either him playing down their League tactics or maybe they’ve honestly thought “what’s the point?”
The point is, it has shown that it can make a difference and win you games in the League. And especially the way Mayo and Dublin play, the opportunities for marks will come up regularly.
But, if Dublin aren’t practicing it offensively that means they won’t have thought much about it defensively either which could be a flaw on Saturday.
Much like ourselves last year, Kerry were slated after their exit from the Super 8s. But a rejuvenated Kingdom is now on the way, filled with youth and a new man at the helm. Kerry don’t fear the Dubs, same as how the Dubs don’t fear anyone. That’s why their battles in recent years have been as noteworthy as ours.
Take them on, hit them hard and hit them fast.
The Kerry manager believes in youth, same as Horan, and took pride in showing the GAA public that these were his All-Ireland winning youngsters. Now they had become men and could put anyone to the sword on the way.
They had the stamina to put Dublin under pressure, to tire them out, to stop them from getting the scores and then to hit them painfully on the scoreboard when they retrieved the ball. The only other team who play against Dublin like that is us.
Even when Dublin were down and out – like we’ve seen so many times in the past against us – they really weren’t. They came back at Kerry. Dublin asked the questions, but Kerry had the answers right until the death.
Now it’s our turn to do the homework.
A post on the blog during the week asked people to vote on Mayo’s favourite score. It also came in the same week that John Morrison passed away. Both things were connected for me.
McDonald changed the way I kicked a ball in 2006. I went from curling it like Beckham to slicing every shot I could with the outside of my right boot all because of him.
I meet ‘famous’ people (the interpretation of that word may vary) all the time in my line of work and only one left me stuttering. McDonald said hello to me and shook my hand after a Ballintubber-Crossmolina game that I was reporting on for the Western People at the time. I’d say he was already driving out of Clogher by the time I managed to get the words out.
And it was fitting that, that outstanding point came in the same game in which the great John Morrison played such a vital part.
You know the scene by now. Pillar Caffrey’s shoulder into the back of Morrison is just as iconic as McDonald’s point. Morrison simply turned around as if he had felt a fly behind him.
It's class how much John Morrison genuinely seemed to love that shoulder from Pillar Caffrey pic.twitter.com/OY6QncX0OB— Conán Doherty (@ConanDoherty) February 19, 2019
John showed that day that we wouldn’t be bullied, that we’d stand up and fight even when our backs were against the wall, or in his case, against the Dublin manager.
Caffrey had more chance of running through a brick wall that day. I hope we show the courage to break down Dublin’s defensive wall on Saturday.