One of the side effects I find of having small children is that so many of life’s big issues get refracted through the lens of the stories that dominate their world. McCain v Obama? Just like Tom and Jerry. (Here, IMHO, is the best ever T&J episode). The credit crunch? Summed up eloquently in that scene from Mary Poppins when the young lad asks for his penny back and causes a run on the bank. It should be no surprise, then, that the first thought that popped into my head after last night’s pairings for next year’s Championship were made was how much our draw resembled Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
I’ve lost you, haven’t I? Okay, then, let me explain. 2009 will be Johnno’s third championship campaign in his Mk II incarnation as Mayo manager and the two draws we’ve pulled in Connacht over the last two years have been very different. 2007 was, by common consent, too hard – and we never recovered from that hole-kicking we got in Salthill in May that year – while this year was too soft, with only Sligo’s supine challenge standing between us and the Connacht final. Next year’s draw – which more than likely will see us having to beat both Roscommon and Galway (in that order) to win Connacht – is, you’ve guessed it, just about right: not too hard or not too soft.
After some early buddy-bonding stuff in the Big Apple (where Johnno would be well advised to consult his oft-derided predecessor John Maughan on what they got up to in the Catskills back in 2004), we’ll square up against either Roscommon (who we last met in the championship in Hyde Park back in 2005) or Leitrim (who damn near beat us up in Carrick when last we met, in 2006). Regardless of which one that is, next year’s semi-final will be at McHale Park, assuming the builders will have finished the job by then. The Rossies have to travel to Carrick to play Leitrim first and, unless they show significant improvement on this year, they’ll come away empty-handed from the Ridge County. However, Fergie O’Donnell’s appointment should give them the gee-up they need, especially if he can blend in sufficient numbers of his All-Ireland winning minor side from 2006 and so get the senior team playing something resembling football again.
The Rossies won’t fancy having to come to McHale Park, even if it’ll be changed, changed utterly, by then but if they do battle their way out of Carrick they’ll obviously be looking to catch us cold in the semi-final. A good, old-fashioned battle with the Rossies is, I think, just the kind of match we need to get our championship campaign underway, especially because if we win the Connacht final will almost certainly be against our old chums Galway in poxy old Pearse Stadium.
2009 is set to be the defining year for The Second Coming. A Connacht title is an absolute must for us next year and if Johnno fails to deliver this, his second tenure as Mayo manager is set to end in abject failure. The draw for Connacht next year is ideal for us to have a right tilt at it and assuming that the team is prepared properly (note to Andy Moran – please don’t peak again in March next year), we have every reason to expect that we can do it. And as for the Salthill hoodoo, we need to adopt Super Mac’s attitude when the Tuam hoodoo was finally banished. (Journo to Mac after 1999 Connacht final: “Well, Ciaran, how do you feel to have finally cracked the Tuam hoodoo?”. Mac to journo: “Fuck the hoodoo”). If our preparation and our attitude are right next year, then we can be confident that, as happened to Goldilocks, the Herrin Chokers will end up high-tailing it home wailing to their mammies.